Friday, 30 October 2015

Interview: Emma Beattie, starring in Medea at the Gate Theatre

Emma Beattie is starring as the title role in Anne-Louise Sarks’ production of Medea at the Gate Theatre.

Having premiered in Sydney to huge acclaim, Anne-Louise’s production turns Euripides’ play on its head and presents the tragedy from the children’s perspective.

Emma’s theatre credits include: The Distance & The Ruffian on the Stair (both Orange Tree), The Odyssey (Derby Playhouse), The Last of the Haussmans (National), Death of a Cyclist (Soho), Four for Jericho (Pleasance), Great Expectations (Watermill), The Song of Deborah (Lowry), The Potting Shed (Finborough), Ivanov (Donmar/West End), John Gabriel Borkman & The Cut (both Donmar) and Hysteria (UK tour). Her screen credits include: Catastrophe, The Wives Did it, Mr Selfridge and Legacy.

I recently spoke to Emma about why this new adaptation of Medea will surprise audiences, how she’s finding her first experience of acting alongside child performers and what it’s like to work at the Gate…

What drew you to this production?
I read it – obviously knowing the story – and really thought it was wonderful. I thought it was terribly human and unique because it’s told from the point of view of the children, rather than from Medea's perspective. It made the whole thing really exciting and interesting – everything is flipped on its head. You can feel the love that Medea has for her children and I remember upon my first reading being utterly drawn into the story and the world of these children. I immediately understood it. Obviously it’s a part every actress would want to play, but this is completely different to any other interpretation of the story that I’ve read or seen before. It really is more about the children than it is about me… but sadly you probably can’t interview them [laughs]. They’re only little!

Do you think the effect on audiences will be drastically different? How will people come away feeling?
Everybody I’ve spoken to about Medea says “oh yes revenge”, but this version is more about love and what makes somebody do something so extreme to their children. I think the idea originated with Anne-Louise Sarks from a story she heard in Australia about a particular man who killed his daughter. It’s about what drives somebody who is in a relationship and loves their children to then murder their children. I think it will be quite difficult for people who are parents to come and see it. You fall in love with these children, they are so beautifully drawn, natural and real plus the whole staging is so real! What they’ve done with the space is extraordinary; it’s going to feel very claustrophobic for the audience. They’re going to feel like they are in the room and will really get the story through the children’s lens. It’s a very unique position to be in! It’s going to tear you apart – reading it for the first time had me in bits. 

What have the kids been like to work with?
They are gorgeous! It’s a different process; normally if you’re with a company of actors you approach it from a cerebral point of view and try and get into the psychology of the piece, but the kids have their own psychology. They make sense of each task at a time and respond to things instinctively. It’s a unique process for me because I’ve never worked with children before! You would think it would all be the same because it’s the same words and characters, but each one of them brings their own perspective. It will be very exciting… thrilling… scary [laughs]!

It will keep it fresh for you to perform with different kids each night!
Yes, they alternate which absolutely will keep it fresh. It will be really alive for the audience and for us! Children are just so honest in everything that they do. They just tell the story in a very real way. They lead the charge and I have to respond to what they do. It’s quite an extraordinary process! I’m still getting used to it but am really enjoying it – it has been brilliant!

Anne-Louise had huge success with the show in Sydney, what has she been like to work with? Is she open to fresh ideas?
Absolutely! Because they’ve already originated the piece there are quite specific stage directions, but that’s more to help stimulate ideas. With each set of children comes different ideas so it definitely does feel like we’re drawing on her wisdom and knowledge of the piece, but it also feels like she’s coming at it from a fresh perspective. 

There’s such a buzz surrounding the Gate, what’s it like to work there?
There’s a real passion here for the work. It’s very exciting because when you’re working in these intimate spaces it’s very real and the attention to detail is just exquisite – it’s like you’re on a film set. There’s absolutely nowhere to hide. I’ve been really impressed by everyone’s passion and commitment to the piece. So far it has just been a joy – I’m so excited to be on board!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Medea opens at the Gate Theatre on 9th Novemver (previews from 2nd November) and runs until 28th November 2015. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Ikin Yum

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