From Chester-based Hollyoaks to the depths of World War One France, Sarah Jayne Dunn has come a long way in her career as an actress.
Perhaps best known for her 10-year stint playing the highly-strung character, Mandy, in Hollyoaks, Sarah is currently starring in a stage adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks novel, Birdsong, which is due to run at Milton Keynes Theatre next week.
The story centres around a young Englishman, named Stephen, who embarks on a passionate affair with his host’s wife, Isabelle (played by Sarah).
When war breaks out, he finds his life taken over by the carnage of the Somme battlefield, where he clings to his lover’s memory as the world explodes around him.
Sarah said: “When I got the script, I loved it. I got a copy of the book and felt so much compassion for the character, she is a really nice person. I felt really sorry for her as she could be really happy, but she is in an arranged marriage with an abusive husband when she meets Stephen and they are soul mates. They fall in love, but can’t be together. You really want them to be together.
“Sebastian Faulks actually came to see it and the first time he was in, we were petrified. He doesn’t like the theatre so that was an added pressure. But he loved it and came to watch it again and has more involvement with it.
“When we started, we went to France the first day and visited Amiens and saw the things that Sebastian based the book on. We went to see the places he had described and visited the trenches and a few of the war memorials. It was fascinating. We only spent a day there. They also took Jonathan Smith, who plays Stephen, and it was a really nice bonding experience to start the whole play.”
At the age of only 31, it is hard to believe Sarah has such a long acting career behind her. But she was only 14 when she joined the Hollyoaks cast.
She said: “It all happened by fate or coincidence. I thought I wanted to do modelling, but I got signed up with a modelling agency which also did a bit of casting. I loved youth theatre and drama at school, it was my favourite subject.
“Nowadays it is quite easy to get on TV. There are so many reality programmes now, but then it seemed to be impossible so it wasn’t something I thought I would end up doing. But I loved working on Hollyoaks; it was a great place to learn and I did grow up doing that.
“I got introduced into it slowly, it wasn’t as full on as it is now. They get that instant recognition now in the show, but it wasn’t like that when I started. I wasn’t landed in the deep end, and it [fame] took off as the show progressed.
“I miss the people but the schedule was really full on. There were long hours, but I’m so grateful for having been involved in it. After 10 years I was ready to do something else. When you are working six days a week, 15 hour days, you don’t get much time when you aren’t in it. I loved it, but it was full on. I did go back a couple of times so I got my fix of seeing everyone again.” Birdsong will run at Milton Keynes Theatre from July 22-27.