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Friday, February 3, 2023

From Eastenders to life with a robot nun at Royal Exchange

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Suzette is in the world premiere of Electric Rosary, which opened Friday night at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

Tim Foley’s play, which won the Bruntwood Prize’s new writing award, takes us beyond the decaying walls of the Sisters of St Grace Convent, where numbers are decreasing, heavenly inspiration is at an all-time low, and a council-funded robot-nun has just been welcomed to join the convent.

“I am not a robot, I’m an old-school nun,” laughed Suzette who spent two years on TV soap Eastenders as Sheree Trueman. “This is really my first foray into sci-fi – it’s fascinating.

“When I first read through it, I just thought it was cleverly written and asked questions that are really interesting about faith and technology and love and family.

“I could see it being part of a bigger conversation about technology and our part in and what’s natural and what isn’t and thought it was something I’d love to be part of.

Suzette is convinced that Electric Rosary, which is set in the not-too-distant future, will have an impression on the audience.

“It will really get the audience talking about it afterward,” she said. “It’s a play with a lot of heart in it. It is very funny but there may also be a few tears shed too.

“I like the fact that it raises some thought-provoking questions which definitely make you think. Who isn’t already struggling with technology even if it’s just spending too much time on our phones? Even when you go to the supermarket you deal with a machine and it may even speak to you. It’s important we hold on to that human interaction – that is what we are about. Humans need community, we need each other.”

The cast has been working with playwright Tim Foley in rehearsal.

“It’s been good to have him there to explain things,” said Suzette. “With new work, there is always a little tweaking, although this is an award-winning play so it’s doing OK without our input. But as an actor, you take what the writer gives you and from there perhaps can put your own stamp on it which might be used as a blueprint later on.”

“A nun in turmoil,” Suzette characterizes her character.

“She wasn’t a ‘career nun’,” she said, “She came to the convent later in life. She had been married and it was after her husband’s death that she joined the convent. She’s been with the order for a number of years and was attached to it for a number of years beforehand. She’s also a practical person.”

Suzette has never had the opportunity to perform at the Royal Exchange before.

“I’ve never worked there before although I have seen productions there,” she said. “It’s very exciting to get the chance and also to be back in Manchester. many moons ago I was in a TV series Surgical Spirits which was filmed at the old Granada Studios. Manchester has changed so much since then and I think it’s fabulous.”

The Royal Exchange, according to Suzette, is the ideal venue for Electric Rosary.

“There is something very futuristic about the theatre itself,” she said. “It’s a space that presents lots of great challenges to you as an actor.”

Suzette’s second stage role since leaving Eastenders in September last year is Electric Rosary; she previously performed in Running With Lions at London’s Lyric Theatre.

“It’s lovely to be back in the theatre,” she said. “When you’re doing TV you don’t have the time to go through the full rehearsal process. One of the things I love about acting is that you get to be your own detective and when you are given a character you have to find out all the different things about them and piece it all together.

“You are doing your own editing when you are in the theatre. You do have to get back in touch with your soul and everything that you love about acting.”

Suzette is completely prepared to be known to as “ex Eastenders’ star” for a long time if she leaves a massively famous TV show after playing a crucial character.

“It goes with the territory,” she said. “I really enjoyed playing the character and got to work with some wonderful people on the show. I still get people asking me ‘why did you take his money?’”

She left her husband Patrick on the soap, taking all of his money with her.

“But the more work you do, the less people will focus on that one role. So for the moment you’ll know me as a nun!”

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