Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Interview: Charlotte Wakefield

Charlotte Wakefield is currently playing Hester Fletcher in the UK tour of The Herbal Bed: The Secret Life Of Shakespeare’s Daughter. Directed by James Dacre, this production marks the first major revival of Peter Whelan’s play.

Charlotte famously created the role of Wendla Bergman in the UK premiere of Spring Awakening at the Lyric Hammersmith. The show transferred to the West End’s Novello Theatre and Charlotte received an Olivier nomination.

Her subsequent theatre credits include: Sophie in Mamma Mia! (International Tour/West End), Maria in The Sound of Music (Open Air Theatre) for which she received her second Olivier nomination, Edith in Noel Coward's Christmas Spirits (St James Studio), Laurey in Oklahoma! (UK Tour) and Emma in Monsieur Popular (Theatre Royal Bath). 

On screen Charlotte has appeared in Doctors, Holby City, Waterloo Road, Occupation, The Royal, Leap Of Faith and An Angel For May.

I recently spoke to Charlotte about taking on a straight play, why she’s learning so much from her fellow cast members, missing singing and whether she’s recovered from performing Drew McOnie’s dream ballet eight times a week in Oklahoma!... 

What first drew you to The Herbal Bed? When did you know it was something you wanted to be a part of?
Initially the attraction was working with James Dacre and Royal & Derngate again – I previously worked with Royal & Derngate on Oklahoma!. And then when I looked at the script… I mean… it’s beautifully written; Peter Whelan has written an absolutely stunning script. Also it’s a story of emotional turmoil for all the characters involved. There’s no lead role, it’s an ensemble piece which is really nice. It’s an unknown story from a time we know quite a lot about because of Shakespeare and his writing, but Susanna Hall, Shakespeare’s daughter, and her story is kind of lost – we bring it to light. The play is based on truth so it’s really quite interesting to discover what happened.

Charlotte in The Herbal Bed

How was it to then go into rehearsals? I imagine as a company you had to do a lot of research?
Well James is a brilliant director, and a couple of people had worked with him before on some of Peter’s other works. So some of the cast already knew his process, whereas I didn’t. This is my first proper straight play, so I came at it from a different angle – I’m used to working on musicals where we have a lot to do in a short space of time. With this, although it’s a very deep script with a lot of detail, we had more time to focus on certain things. We did do a lot of research, we were all given a little section to research. My character Hester is a servant so I had to research about servants in the age, women in the workplace and those sorts of things. Someone also came in to give us a talk on medicine at the time. It has been fascinating! As actors, we’re so in-the-know about the time and about the characters we’re playing. 

Have you enjoyed taking on your ‘first proper’ straight play? You’ve done lots of work on screen before as well as lots of musicals, so it must be nice to mix things up?
It’s a lovely change. It’s nice not having to worry ‘Oh my god, is my voice going to be able to sing this crazy score?’ which is what I’m usually used to thinking [laughs]. Acting is where I started – it’s the first thing I did, so to be able to perform a straight play and just tell a really good story is brilliant. Rehearsals were a whole new experience for me, and working with actors who have worked at the Globe and for the Royal Shakespeare Company has been incredible. It’s a whole different field! I’ve of course worked with lots of incredible actors before, but they’ve had more musical theatre backgrounds and I’m sort of in with that crowd. I’ve learnt a lot from this cast.

Charlotte in Oklahoma!
After performing this massive emotional turmoil each night, how does it feel to come off stage? 
[laughs] It’s quite hard. It’s hard to get psyched up for it because, although the play starts in quite a rural setting, the characters are extremely deep and we have to set up the characters in the first ten minutes of the play. We have to be in the zone before we go on – it’s not one of these shows where you just turn up and go on. I have to put myself into that mind frame. When we do a two show day, because there’s so much detail in the show you have to forget you’ve just done it once otherwise it’s really confusing to keep up with where you’re at in the show [laughs]. It is nice, and I’ve got a lovely company. Every single cast member is so lovely and we get the chance to wind down after the show. Sometimes we’ll all go for a drink or go and get some food and just chill out. It’s a really nice atmosphere and I’m really fortunate to be a part of it.

Have you enjoyed seeing how different audiences respond?
Yes! People have been really excited about the show coming to their area – it’s the first major revival since it was done at the Royal Shakespeare Company. A lot of people, of a certain generation, studied the play for A Level. A lot of friends have said, “Oh my gosh I studied that at A Level!” It has been really interesting.

As you mentioned, last year you were on the road with Oklahoma! which is such a dream show for so many people. How does it feel to look back now?
I mean… as a whole… I just had the best time! I think we did it for seven months which at the time felt endless because when you’re on tour and moving every week it feels like you’re constantly on the go. Looking back, I couldn’t have wished for a better company or a better creative team. Working with Rachel Kavanaugh again, having worked with her on The Sound of Music, was amazing. Drew McOnie is incredible… I’m so excited to see Jekyll and Hide and all the other things he’s doing at the moment. He’s doing so well and he’s such a nice guy! It’s a treasured job for me.

Charlotte in The Sound of Music

Have you recovered from doing Drew’s dream ballet eight times a week? I haven’t recovered from watching it once!
[laughs] Oh my gosh it was intense! I was probably in the best shape I have ever been in in my life by the time I left that show. It was such an honour to be able to dance and sing and perform that beautiful story with that beautiful music. It’s strange because now I’m being given the chance to dip my feet into lots of different pools and it has made me appreciate musical theatre; when you step out of it for a little while you appreciate what we all do for a living. There are days when I do miss having a good old sing song every night [laughs], but I’m sure I bore people in the dressing room with my singing.

Your CV is so varied, in addition to the screen work even your musical theatre roles from Spring Awakening to Mamma Mia! and The Sound of Music have been so different. Is that kind of variety important to you? It’s so easy to become pigeonholed in this industry, isn’t it?
Absolutely! I’ve got an incredible agent; I’m with Lesley Duff at Diamond Management and I’ve been with her since I was twelve years old… we’ve been together thirteen years! We have a great relationship and she’s so supportive of me. We have regular meetings and talk about our plan and what we want to do. I said to her, “Maybe I should do some more straight acting” and she got right on it. As soon as I left Oklahoma! I went straight into Monsieur Popular at the Theatre Royal Bath and then into this. I love variety, to go from a pop musical straight into a Rodgers and Hammerstein – the hardest Rodgers and Hammerstein in my opinion [laughs] – was incredible! I’ve been very lucky to have been given these opportunities.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Herbal Bed plays Theatre Royal Bath until 16th April, Oxford Playhouse (19th-23rd April) and Rose Theatre Kingston (26th April-7th May).

Photo Credit 2: Mark Douet
Photo Credit 3: Pamela Raith
Photo Credit 4: Johan Persson

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