‘I’m having so much fun and giving it everything I’ve got’: Coronation Street star Faye Brookes loving life back on stage with Chicago
There’s no secret formula to cracking showbiz. It’s a cut-throat and horrifically unfair industry, chewing up and spitting out as many would-be stars as it nurtures. Coronation Street’s Faye Brookes knew this going in. She knew it would be hard and unforgiving and that the recipe would require just as much luck as dedication.
But she had a secret ingredient: she absolutely loved it.
Born in Trafford in Manchester, Faye indulged a real love of performance and play from an early age, roping her younger brother Jack into the various skits she’d put on for the family, expanding her efforts to put smiles on faces with each bespoke childhood matinee production. To put it transactionally, she logged her 10,000 hours early.
“I genuinely loved playing - becoming different characters and putting on voices,” Faye, 34, tells me from a sweltering dressing room in Cardiff ahead of that night’s performance of Chicago, in which she plays Roxie. “That sense of play stayed with me and kept me free-spirited and doe-eyed, even though it’s a competitive industry which relies on the luck of the draw.”
Not one to be weighed down by hefty odds stacked against anyone making it, Faye instead tapped into her endless well of passion to great effect. In just her second year at the Guildford School of Acting, she was snapped up by an agent and cast in a West End musical. Which makes it all sound a lot easier than it actually was.
“I’ve always grafted - I worked three jobs while I was studying - but just a taste of that world where you eat, sleep, and breathe it, was enough to convince me I didn’t want to do anything else,” says Faye. “My second year at drama school was make-or-break. Thankfully, I got an agent and the rest was a blur. Surreal.”
When Faye landed the role of Frenchie in Grease in the West End, she was just 20. The next few years were a whirlwind: Faye went on to star in various theatre productions, earning rave reviews for her performances as Princess Fiona in Shrek, as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, as Ann/Edna in That Day We Sang, and as Liesl in The Sound of Music.
“I was living my dream,” says Faye. But it wasn’t all milk and honey - find the performer who's never been told ‘no’ and you’ve found yourself a liar. “I needed to rely on my love of the job because you get a lot more ‘no’s than ‘yes’s, and I’ve had my fair share of nos. I’ve been there sobbing my heart out after I’ve not gotten a role.
“But I always wake up the next day, dust myself off, look in the mirror, and say ‘what’s next?’” adds Faye. “If rejection breaks you, then you’re not made for this industry. And the highs outweigh the lows for me. When bad things happen, it’s not the end of the world. We’re still here and we can still live beautiful lives. And I’m not one to waste life.
“When I was younger, I was probably a bit naive and in love with every show and role I went for, and you need that love but, with age, I’ve learned not to cede negative energy to drama that’s nothing to do with me,” explains Faye. “I’ve become wiser and more in-the-know in terms of how the industry works. You can’t teach that.
“Before, little things would get to me, whereas now I let them wash over me because I know what’s really important is being happy, family, and loving your job,” she adds. “I’m doing my dream job, so I count my blessings.”
Away from the stage, Faye joined the cast of Coronation Street as Kate Connor in 2015, winning Best Newcomer at the 22nd National Television Awards in 2017. After leaving the show in 2019, she appeared in the 2021 series of Dancing on Ice, finishing as a runner up with Matt Evers and dedicating an emotional semi-final performance to her brother, who was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was aged nine before being given the all-clear at 18.
I ask how important family is to her and Faye responds almost before I can finish asking the question. “I adore my family,” she says. “I was a nightmare in lockdown - I never enjoy time off as it is, so I was bouncing off the walls at first, but luckily I was with my partner, who’s a personal trainer, so he kept that energy channelled in a good direction.
“But I did have the issue of what to do with my purpose, which is to be on stage and perform,” she adds. “Time almost stood still and I knew that, even though I still had this strong love for the industry which will never go away, I had a newfound appreciation for time itself. I’m usually 100mph and all-or-nothing, which is great, but it means I wear myself out.
“I don’t know when to press pause, but lockdown made me take stock and value what’s really important to me,” Faye continues. “I even started to look at qualifying as a personal trainer just because I didn’t know if we’d even have an industry to go back to. I came out the other side of lockdown with more perspective on the importance of being present.
“I’m very grateful for that fresh outlook on life.”
Faye also emerged from lockdown with what she’s called a ‘dream role’: that of Roxie in a new production Chicago which comes to The Winter Gardens in Blackpool for a week of shows starting Tuesday 28th. Breathing in the show’s innate decadence and razzle-dazzle, Faye’s ‘savouring every second’ of being involved in the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history.
“We’ve all been dreaming of the day we could perform in front of live audiences again, so I’m loving being back on stage,” says Faye. “It’s crazy because we were one of the first shows to go back out on the road and there was a lot of pressure with Covid hanging over our heads. We had to be so safe and take care of each other.
“It felt remarkable to just be able to do the job, so to be taking on such a huge role on top of that meant my brain was going 100mph,” she adds. “But I’m loving playing Roxie: I’m really soaking her up. I even got to play her in my hometown of Manchester on the stage where, as a teenager, I worked as an usher. To come full circle like that is amazing.
“Honestly, I’m having so much fun,” says Faye. “Being back performing has kept me on my toes, so I’m ready and raring to go. Once that curtain goes up and I’m in costume and I can hear the audience reaction… there’s nothing like it. Plus, Roxie’s a character who unravels in a different way each night.
“I use that energy from my own life, from the audience, and from those performing around me to conjure up a real response,” Faye adds. “I’m excited ahead of each performance because playing her is so liberating and rewarding. And I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”
For more information on Chicago at The Winter Gardens, head to www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/events/chicago/