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Former Eastenders' star talks to Freetime ahead of Bouncers next week
ACE Bhatti is known to millions as playing evil Dr Yusef Khan in Eastenders. But after leaving the show he has gone back to the stage to perform in John Godber's Bouncers. He grew up in a working class family in Nottingham and said this play offered him a way back into the theatre world. He talks about the appeal of the show and leaving Eastenders.
When I spoke to Ace he had just finished a yoga session.
He had got into the exercise when he was in America recently where he mistakenly went to an advanced yoga class, instead of a beginners.
Before he knew it he had learnt to do a hand stand, which he said helped him get a part in Midsomer Murders, where he played a part-time yoga teacher. He said: "I recently got into it, especially after Midsomer Murders as that was one of the reasons I got the part because I went and did a hand stand."
And Ace has many strings to his bow. He has starred in numerous TV programmes over the years from Spooks to The Sarah Jane Adventures to Grease Monkeys.
But as so often happens when actors appear in the UK's soaps he is best known for playing smooth talking Dr Yusef Khan in Eastenders. The nation was gripped by the domestic abuse storyline between Yusef and Zainab.
He left the soap spectacularly on Boxing Day last year in a blaze.
Ace said: "They wrote me a fantastic part. I knew very early on it was only going to be one year."
And he wasn't even allowed to discuss his storyline with other cast members. He said: "It was only a year. People have years and years. Within that year I have been blown away by the impact it has made within that short amount of time."
And it is what he gets most recognised for.
He said: It is going to happen. It is what it is. I have done so many different things. It is funny that Eastenders gets you in the public eye. "I didn't realise so many people watch it. Rather naively perhaps I thought people wouldn't notice I was in the show, with people like Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace.
"What I failed to understand- I am a bit dim... people get into that story."
He is currently starring in Bouncers, which is his first return to the stage in years. The show by John Godber is described as an enduring comedy about the darker side of city night-life.
Directed by the author, it also stars Don Gilet (Lucas from EastEnders), William Ilkley (from The Royal) and Ian Reddington, who played both Vernon Tomlin in Coronation Street and Richard Cole, aka Tricky Dicky, in EastEnders.
It is set in and around a northern nightclub, with the action focusing on the exploits of the four doormen and their customers.
The four men play the bouncers themselves but also play four girls and four young men - all created by vocal and physical techniques, with no costume changes, wigs or props. When I spoke to Ace, who is a dad of two, he was performing in Nottingham, which is where he is from.
He said: "The Theatre Royal is beautiful. As a child I used to walk past there with hopes of playing there one day."
The night before when he walked out on stage the audience gave him a big cheer. He said: "I come from quite a rough area in Nottingham and I have done alright." he joked: "Then they saw my acting and thought oh dear!"
But he said it was amazing to perform in his home town. And he used Bouncers as a piece for drama school. He said: "I came from a working class background. My parents- their theatre knowledge was minimal and so was mine. I went to see certain plays. I felt it was someone else's sort of area and wasn't for me.
"Then I saw Bouncers and I could relate to it. It was a great play. It didn't make me feel like I couldn't go to see it."
He added: "I feel it is still relevant. We all go out on Friday night for a drink and on the hunt. We have all been there and all done it from whatever background we are from."
He said he was so happy to work with John Godber, who employed him because of his acting skills not because he had been on Eastenders.
They had a three week rehearsal period. Ace said: "It has been done so much over the years. It is one of the one most played plays in the world, as far as I know. "So much of it had become about the routine- the girls and dancing. "What John discovered was the words. "The words are very deep... There is this great new element to play with."
He said John looked at the moral side of it too so one moment the audience will be laughing and the next it will really get them thinking. He said: "It works on lots of levels and I am really pleased with that."
But he laughed it really hit them physically as the show is a mixture of dancing and singing. He said: "Do you now what was hard was the speed and the physicality of it.
"The first three days we sat down and spoke it and then we got up and moved and thought how unfit are we?!"
Bouncers is at the Wycombe Swan from October 16-20 at 7.30pm. Tickets range from £17.50-£24.50 from 01494 512000 or go to www.wycombeswan.co.uk
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