Monday, 2 March 2015

Interview: Clare Calbraith, starring in Multitudes at the Tricycle Theatre

Clare Calbraith is currently playing Natalie in the world premiere of Multitudes by John Hollingworth at the Tricycle Theatre. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham, the production runs until 21st March 2015.

Clare’s theatre credits include: Last Days of Troy (Royal Exchange & Shakespeare’s Globe), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Royal Exchange), Humble Boy (New Victoria Theatre) and A Doll’s House (Northcott Exeter). 

Her television work includes Home Fires, Silent Witness, DC Rebecca Shepherd in Vera, Jane Moorsum in Downton Abbey, The Shadow Line, Robyn in Coronation Street, 55 Degrees North and Dr. Tricia Summerbee in Heartbeat. 

I recently spoke to Clare about what makes Multitudes so relevant, how the piece has developed and why she loves working at the Tricycle… 

After reading the script what made you want to jump on board?
I’ve always wanted to work with Indhu having seen a lot of her work, I think she’s a brilliant director. We have a very different script now to the one I originally read as it changed an awful lot during the rehearsal process. John, as the writer, worked incredibly quickly; often we would rehearse one day and then have an entirely new scene the following day because he would re-write it. 

Now seems a very appropriate time for the piece…
There’s no getting away from just how current the issues are. I first looked at the play at a time when I was beginning to feel depressed about what I considered to be biased coverage of Islam and this production offered a more balanced view. There are many different opinions in the play and it’s not pro or anti anything but it gives a voice that is not often heard. It’s not staunchly liberal or left-wing, and although it is a political piece it’s also about a family and I think it gives voice very eloquently to varying opinions. It is something I wanted to be involved in; I didn’t really know very much about Islam, even though I thought I did, so it was quite a discovery for me. Normally you do a play and it can be quite an indulgent experience – actors just want to show off, don’t they?! – but I felt this was a learning experience as well which was new for me. John is an exciting new writer and I think the combination of John with Indhu made it a no-brainer for me!

Salma Hoque and Clare in rehearsals

What has it been like to take on such big issues, how intense were rehearsals?
Not very, they were extraordinarily good fun which I think it has to be because the subject is too intense so you have to approach it with a degree of warmth and humour. If we had been too intense we would never have got the play done. The day we did the first workshop was the day of the terrorist incidents in Paris. We did the workshop which was all lovely and we had a great time, and then we went home we saw the news which was so shocking. Every day we read about some atrocity and then walk into rehearsal and it weighs heavy on our minds. We are often asked whether we are being respectful enough and treating the subject with the levity it deserves. But we are also trying to put on a play which, although it has its moments, is not a heavy play; it has humour and light and shade… it’s not a lecture in any way, it doesn’t provide any answers.

What is its tone?
The tone really changes through the play and we almost have to say to the audience that it’s ok to laugh, there is a lot of humour in it as well as some dark bits. You never want to alienate anyone when doing a play and sometimes, for me anyway, a play is very intense and very earnest, and I can feel removed from it. You need to find a way into a play and identify with the characters, even if the characters aren’t very nice! Fingers crossed it will spark debates.

People always tell me they want to do something new that they can sink their teeth into, is taking on a new play something you enjoy?
Yes, I don’t do a lot of it, I mainly do television or established plays so I love doing new theatre. It’s scary because you don’t have a template. With an old play you can look at the reviews and see that it worked… but we have nothing like that and don’t really know whether it is ever going to work. That’s really frightening, but exciting too. I love going to work and being given the cuts and changes because it keep you on your toes and you feel involved with something that is happening now rather than churning out the same old s**t [laughs] so I loved the rehearsal process. Strangely, it’s sometimes not very nice having the writer in the room but we loved having John with us; I’ve never met a writer less precious about his own work. There were some brilliant lines that he agreed to cut without a moment’s thought because it was felt to be in the play’s best interest. John and Indhu were a great team and that is not always the case. So I’ve loved the process and hope there is more to come!

The Tricycle is one of my favourite theatres, they stage shows others would be too scared to touch. Are you enjoying your time there?
I agree it’s a lovely little theatre and just the building itself… I’ve never worked anywhere else like it, the entire staff are all so committed to each other with Indhu at the helm. There’s a strong sense of community in the building, they are a great team and fiercely protective of each other making it the nicest place to work in. I suppose that being a strong team is necessary to help them to be brave enough to do what they do.

You do a lot of screen work too, for you is it important to keep coming back to theatre?
Yes, I definitely like returning to theatre and try to do one play a year if I can but I also like the craft of television and, frankly, it’s easier [laughs]! Sometimes after a play I’m like, ‘Oh my god I’m knackered! I need to go and do a bit of telly!’ and actually manage to pay the mortgage [laughs]. I’ve been very lucky, I just finished a really nice telly job before coming into this so it’s lovely, you feel like a proper actor when you do theatre [laughs]. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor) 

Multitudes runs at the Tricycle Theatre until Saturday 21st March 2015.
Please visit for info and tickets.

Photo Credit:  Mark Douet

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