Having grown up in Clifton, Nottingham, Karl is due to return to his hometown this summer when he takes on the lead role in the award-winning play Shebeen, which has its world premiere at Nottingham Playhouse.
The soap-star tells us why he’s proud to be part of a play with such local links and why he’s always happy to stop for a selfie… “Growing up I was always into drama – I loved doing plays at school and when the Central TV Workshop came along I thought it looked really interesting so a friend and I signed up as some of its first members.
“I actually always wanted to be a joiner – acting was just a hobby – it wasn’t until one of the tutors at the Workshop explained that acting could be a career, that I realised I could actually do it as a job. I’d naturally assumed that kids on TV needed to be posh, and from a rich family, but if you have drive and ambition it’s possible for anyone to make it.
“By 14, I was on a show on ITV called Dramarama, but the real turning point for me was when I went on a school trip to see an RSC performance of Romeo and Juliet. I remember it so vividly.
Hugh Quarshie played Tybalt and, as a young black kid from a council estate, seeing a black actor playing such an amazing role so magnificently, and in such an important theatre, I realised: wow, I could do this too!”
A new direction
At 18, Karl left Nottingham for drama school in London. He then had a string of roles in various TV shows – including EastEnders, Casualty and four years as DC Danny Glaze in The Bill. Staying true to his East Midlands roots, Karl also starred in Shane Meadows’ film Twenty Four Seven.
“I’m so lucky to have been able to play such a variety of roles – what I love about acting is that you’re able to play characters from different decades and backgrounds – it sounds a bit pretentious but, for me, acting is a real art and profession; I hate being called a ‘celebrity’ as that’s not why I’m in the industry, but I’m always happy to stop for a selfie as I know that me doing that might brighten someone else’s day.”
This summer, Karl will be taking a short break from the set of Hollyoaks to tread the boards in Shebeen. Set in 1950s St Ann’s, Nottingham, a Jamaican couple Pearl and George are helping Caribbean migrants to cut loose by hosting a forbidden party at their ‘Shebeen’ - tempers are flaring and Teddy Boys are on the march.
The story, written by Nottingham-based author Mufaro Makubika, shines a light on a community under siege and the sacrifices made for love.
“I’m really excited about stepping onto the stage again and so happy to be performing in my hometown.
Closer to home
“It’s been four years since my last theatre role and there is no feeling like it.
“When you are working on TV shows, you’re often not recording things in order and you get the chance to do another take if you or the director isn’t happy with the performance. On stage, you only get one chance to convince the audience of who you are portraying and your performance is constantly shifting and moving to reflect the person playing opposite you and to respond to the audience’s reactions.
“Together you, the cast and audience go on a journey, and the adrenaline is immense – it’s really exciting!
“Shebeen is set to be a brilliant show; it’s a fictional story, but based on historical facts – not many people seem to realise that some of the largest race riots outside of London happened in Nottingham. And, although it’s set in the 50s, a lot of the messages of race and immigration are very relevant today and it’s something most people have an opinion on and can relate to in some way.
“It’s also close to home for me; my family moved to the UK in the 60s, so I’ll be catching up with my mum about her memories as part of my research for the show. Sadly my Dad is no longer with us, but I remember him mention fighting off Teddy Boys once – so I’m intrigued about the details of what people went through.
“After the run in Nottingham, we’re taking the show to Theatre Royal Stratford East, and then I’ll be back to the set of Hollyoaks.” Shebeen will be at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 1 – Saturday 16 June.