What a couple of years it's been for Brookside's Mandy Jordache. First, there was her attempt to get rid of her violent husband, Trevor, by poisoning him with weedkiller. When that failed, he discovered her plot and turned very nasty, so she knifed him to death and deposited him under the patio. Then, with discovery imminent, the family fled to Ireland.
Meanwhile, elder daughter Beth declared she was a lesbian and younger daughter Rachel ran away from home. Now, while Beth and Mandy await trial for murder, Rachel has announced that she intends to give evidence against her mother. To top it all, after sleeping with a loan shark and then just one steamy session with boyfriend Sinbad, Mandy is pregnant.
Where will it all end? With perhaps even the imagination of the Brookside scriptwriters exhausted, we're about to find out. Starting today, five consecutive nights on Channel 4 will be devoted to Mandy's court case. Little wonder that the actress Sandra Maitland, a 39-year-old former chemist, plonks herself exhausted into a chair and admits that, of late, she's been yearning to get her teeth into some comedy.
"It's double-edged," she declares of the role. "It's great not to be in the background putting on the coffee, but it does have an effect on you. I've only used tear sticks twice; the rest of the time I've cried naturally. And there have been times when I think I can't cry again.
"One morning I woke up and for a few seconds I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't know how I'm going to get away with it.' Then I remembered I hadn't really killed anybody."
Overnight, Mandy Jordache has become the symbolic figurehead of battered women. It's an onerous responsibility and one that Sandra doesn't take lightly. Pre-Mandy, she says her own knowledge of domestic violence could have been written on the back of a postage stamp.
"Like many people, I knew it went on, but I didn't have much understanding of it. I just thought women in that situation should leave. Then I went to some refuges with the researchers. That's when I discovered how difficult it is to get out.
"It is such a behind-closed-doors issue. The women feel shame, that it's their fault, and that they can change their partners. So they believe him when he says he's sorry with the chocs and the flowers and that he won't do it again. On average, a woman leaves seven times before she finally leaves for good."
Mandy's predicament has also struck a chord with viewers. Many have written in, some going as far as to say that it was Mandy's plight that provided the incentive they needed to leave.
Sandra's eyes well up when she recalls some of the horrific stories she has come across. There's the woman who was chased down the street in her nightie by her husband brandishing a machete; the woman ordered to clean the kitchen floor with a toothbrush; and the wife whose husband kicked her so violently he ruptured her spleen, only to turn up at the hospital to knock her about a bit more. Sandra is now involved with Zero Tolerance, the campaign against domestic violence; her last address to a meetingdrew a full crowd.
As the storyline gathers momentum, Sandra had taken to alleviating her stress by pounding her exer-skier and banning all talk of Brookside at home. Meanwhile, out shopping, passers-by yell out comments, usually to tell her Sinbad should go on a diet. Mostly, however, it's stares and whispers. "Perhaps they think I'm going to knife them," she chuckles.
Like the rest of the cast, Sandra has no idea whether Mandy will be giving birth behind bars. The cast has filmed two potential endings, but only Brookside's boss, Phil Redmond, knows which one will be broadcast on Friday night. Sandra is clear, though, about which outcome she would prefer.
"I think Mandy has suffered enough. Her punishment is the life she has endured for the past two years."
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