Brickies look to EastEnder to build West End show

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Nicola Stapleton, who played the teenager Mandy in the soap opera EastEnders, has achieved a first in West End theatre - she has persuaded a gang of building site workers to become "angels" and invest in a new play in which she is starring.

Fourteen plasterers, painters, carpenters and labourers are setting the precedent by becoming associate luvvies. They have put pounds 5,000 into Scissor Happy, a comedy opening next month at the Duchess Theatre, which will be different every night. In another unprecedented move for West End theatre, the audience is invited to play detective, ask the murder suspects questions, and vote on who the murderer is. Then that ending is played out.

Nicola Stapleton plays a hairdresser, and the murder is committed above her salon.

Ellis Elias, co-producer of the show, is also a property developer and the employer of the building-site workers in Clerkenwell, London. He said: "I was talking to them about this play, they became interested and said they wanted to invest in it but didn't have enough money. So I suggested that instead of investing individually, they club together. Fourteen of them have done that and bought two pounds 2,500 units. Yesterday Miss Stapleton visited the building workers to thank them for their faith in her.

In investing in a West End play the building workers are taking a gamble with high odds attached. Nick Salmon, chief executive of the Theatre Investment Fund, which helps new producers, said: "It is a very high risk. The majority of productions fail to recoup all the capital invested. But if you get a hit show you can make a lot of money very quickly."

Even if the show has a long and successful run, investors are unlikely to do better than triple their money. Anything less than a long run could see them losing the lot. But there are many people keen to invest.

Sometimes individuals invest and sometimes consortia. Mr Salmon said: "Producers tend to keep their lists very secret because they don't want rivals to pinch their investors."