Lucy’s life after soap
Best known as the long-suffering Lisa in EastEnders, Lucy Benjamin arrives in Norwich in a new thriller, Framed! by Norfolk’s Martin Sterling. She tells Sarah Hardy why she’ll never moan about life in soap land and why she also loves panto.
For years Lucy Benjamin went through the mill as the down-trodden, angst-ridden Lisa Mitchell. Her storylines included a bit of everything from love to lust, from births to deaths, with a bit of attempted murder thrown in for good measure.
Lucy, bubbly and bright in real life, admits to thoroughly enjoying her time in the hit soap, EastEnders, but reckons her character experienced just about everything possible. “I had such heavy storylines and when you're involved in them, the workload is immense.”
Lisa was never killed off so a return remains possible for Lucy who comments: “Well, it would be a dilemma. You can never say never as the pay is so good and it helps your profile more than anything. But I have no great desire to go back - and I don't even know if the writers want me!”
Lucy is currently on tour in a new psychological thriller, Framed!, written by North-West Norfolk writer Martin Sterling. Very much in the grand thriller tradition of the Mousetrap, the drama is edge-of-your-seat stuff with a cast of telly favourites including Vincenzo Pellegrino from Casualty and Holby City.
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Lucy plays Judy who meets Sam (played by ex-Corrie favourite Thomas Craig) through an internet dating service. She reckons he's all you could hope for from a man - until he suggests a romantic weekend away in deepest Norfolk.
“It all starts to go wrong,” says Lucy. “But I can't say too much. You'll never work out how it all happens. It keeps you guessing right until the very end.”
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It's a major part for Lucy as she's in just about every scene and there was a lot of dialogue to learn. “It's a real page-turner, I couldn't put the script down,” she says. “That's what attracted me to it in the first place.”
While you might think that it's another Lisa role, full of scary moments and difficult other halves, Lucy says that there's actually some lovely lighter moments, too. “It's very well written so you get a little bit of everything,” she says.
This is Lucy's first major tour and she's enjoying every minute of it. “Sure, we work hard but we get to play hard, too. It's quite a small cast, just five of us, with a couple of the backstage crew who double as under-studies. So we've all got to know each other well and we have some fun.”
She says that they all try to make time to explore an area and, as she's never been to Norfolk before, she's looking forward to seeing the coastline. “I know several of the cast are hiring country cottages and bringing their family up for the week.
“I'm renting a flat with one of the other girl cast members, Sarah Berger, in the city, near the theatre, but I want to get out to the beach if the weather's good!”
Lucy, now aged 35, admits that you have to look after yourself while on the road. “The schedule is punishing, eight shows a week is hard-going. You do have to live out of a suitcase and that isn't usually me - I'm quite a homebody.
“You have to plan your life well - make sure that you have three steady meals and enough sleep as you can get worn out very easily.”
Although Lucy cut her teeth on television, she's loving the immediacy of live work. “I get a real buzz from the audience reaction and people do come to the stage door afterwards. But you don't get another chance to do it all again if there's been a mistake!”
Lucy is having a week's holiday after the Norwich date and plans to jet away to the sun. “The tour runs until October but we've had the odd week off so it's great to get away. You never really knew with EastEnders so I like to make the most of my spare time these days.”
Mentioning EastEnders does not annoy Lucy unlike many former soap stars who find the 'ex-soap star' tag awkward to shake off. Rather, she freely admits, that it was a fabulous career break for her.
“I had a great time, it was really good for me. Nothing beats being on such a hit show to get people to know you. But once you leave and you're not seen in people's living rooms most nights, they start to think that you've given up. It can be frustrating, when you're working away but that's how it is, I guess.”
Once the show finishes, Lucy goes into rehearsals for Cinderella in Northampton this Christmas. “I love being in panto, this is about my eighth one and what's better than Cinderella? You get to wear great frocks.”
Away from work, Lucy loves to go out for meals or catch the latest blockbuster at the cinema. “But I'm just as happy with a takeaway and a video at home,” she laughs. “I'm a terrible cook but I love food.”
As with all those on the telly, Lucy's love-life has been under spotlight for years. She certainly romanced fellow EastEnder Steve McFadden for a time which did provide lots of newspaper gossip for the tabloids and glossy magazines and she was engaged to a much younger man more recently.
Now Lucy is keeping her private life under wraps - although it's rumoured there's another younger man on the scene. Lucky her!
t Framed! opens at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, on Monday, July 18, and runs until Saturday, July 23. Tickets are from £4. More details on 01603 630000 or ww.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk