Dalston acting studio founded by former EastEnders star to stage its first ever play at the Arcola

James Alexandrou and Kate Kelly Flood in Casserole. Photograph: courtesy Chloé Nelkin Consulting

The first play to come out of a Dalston acting studio founded by former EastEnders star James Alexandrou is to debut at the Arcola Theatre.

Alexandrou, perhaps best known for his role as Martin Fowler in the long-running soap, set up Actors East Theatre in response to expensive rents for rehearsal spaces in London.

He has since turned the studio into a fully-fledged theatre company and, in an effort to nurture new talent and give more opportunities to budding thespians, provides a practice room at a pay-what-you-can rate.

In March, Actors East is to premiere its first ever in-house production, Casserole, just across the street at the much-loved Arcola.

Alexandrou, who co-wrote the play and will also direct and star in it, said: “There is a talented, underground, unseen pool of incredible film and theatre makers in London who don’t have access or opportunity, and Actors East is an attempt to bridge that gap.

Casserole is a result of that attempt. It was made in collaboration with every scratch night attendee, as well as its three co-writers/actors. It is about death and love, and was made with love that almost killed us.

“It is actors in a room, talking, with good material, heart, and a few props, and it’s fucking great.”

The intimate one-acter, which has been in development for five years, will see Alexandrou perform alongside Kate Kelly Flood, currently starring on the West End in Dear England.

The pair play Dom and Kate, a couple in mourning, in an exploration of how people can sometimes hide from each other in response to grief.

There is talk of substance abuse, self-loathing, panic attacks, and a look at what happens when you eat your dead mother-in-law’s frozen casserole.

A series of events that appear to be more than mere coincidence make Kate question whether her mother is trying to contact her from beyond the grave.

Dom, more of a realist, attempts to convince her that it is all in her head.

But when he accidentally defrosts the last casserole that Kate’s mother made before her death, it triggers a reckoning over the future of the relationship.

Mehmet Ergen, artistic director at the Arcola Theatre, said: “Casserole hit everybody who was at the work-in-progress showing in the gut. A level of acting, intensity and humour I haven’t seen for a very long time.

“It made it an easy decision for me to offer Actors East a transfer to the Arcola.”

BAFTA award-winning actor Ray Panthaki added: “I had the opportunity to be invited to watch Casserole during its early stage as an improvised work-in-progress at Actors East.

“It was incredibly captivating; full of genuine humour and raw emotion. A perfect piece of indie theatre.”

Casserole runs from 5-30 March 2024 at the Arcola Theatre.