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Actress from Walsall takes on new children's TV drama role

An actress from the Black Country has been cast in new children’s television programme Phoenix Rise.

Karen Johal, of Walsall
Karen Johal, of Walsall

Karen Johal, who hails from Walsall, is playing the role of Noreen in the school drama, which is set in the West Midlands.

Produced by BBC Studios Kids & Family Productions, the drama follows a diverse group of teens who are taking their first tentative steps back into mainstream education after being excluded.

Phoenix Rise is the opportunity for these six misfit heroes to prove that sometimes being an outsider means belonging to the best club of all, as their unlikely friendships bond them and fuel their determination not to be side-lined. Each episode will follow one of the characters as the optimism and fun of teen life is set against the challenges they face in and out of the classroom.

Filming is currently taking place in and around Coventry, including at former secondary school Woodlands Academy.

Karen, who moved to New York to study at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2014, is playing the character of Noreen who is the mother of Khaled, one of the teenagers.

The 31-year-old said: "It's really exciting to be filming a show set in the West Midlands. It's the first role I've had where I'm using my own native accent."

"It's a great because the cast is very diverse and representative of Coventry. It's a mix of ages as it's set in a secondary school. It's great seeing and hearing how excited the younger cast members are – it reminds of what I was like at that age when you're trying to decide if it's something you want to go on to do professionally," added Karen.

Since graduating she has worked extensively in theatre, film and television both in the US and UK. Earlier this year, she was part of the repertory cast for Sky Comedy Rep, a festival of new comedy writing at The Birmingham Rep.

In 2021, Karen was cast in David Harrower's award-winning play Blackbird produced by Let Me In, a non-profit theatre company based in Lichfield. She was also cast in People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan performing to sold out audiences at the historic Sandfields pumping station.

And she also starred in the national 2021 Christmas advert for TK Maxx. Speaking of the latter, the former Perry Beeches Secondary School pupil said: "It was a really fun things to do and the first commercial I've done in the UK." "I've been really lucky with my roles," adds Karen who returned to the US later this year to film another new show in New York.

Phoenix Rise will also star Paul Nicholls, who made his TV debut in children’s drama in 1990s, takes the role of Carl. The character is dad to 15-year-old Billy and 11-year-old Rihanna and failed to return from a lorry driving job in Europe, leaving the two kids at home alone for months on end.

Tyler Fayose takes the role of Jamie Stewart, the head teacher who fights to give the kids a second chance and integrate them back into school life.

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