(Matt Trueman’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/21.)
As a woman, I never expected to play Falstaff – but that meant I didn’t feel daunted by the part. You’re not following in anyone’s footsteps. That’s quite freeing.
Falstaff’s often this old man with a white beard, bumbling around the stage – a fool and a jester. I saw him differently, as an old soldier who’d slipped into villainy. He’s getting older and can’t get away with the things he once did. I saw a man looking for a way out. I’m from a working-class background and my family’s got its fair share of villains. Falstaff’s got the same charisma and brutality that they do. They’re very funny, but they can turn at any second. I wanted to come up with a Falstaff you’d want to have a pint with, but you wouldn’t like to meet down a dark alley. You can’t take your eyes off him for a second. Falstaff’s smart. Playing him like an idiot is a mistake.
Our production’s set in a women’s prison. We’re all playing prisoners first, who are performing Shakespeare’s play, so we interpret the characters as they might. It takes a while to get your head around. My Falstaff is a reflection of the men in this woman’s life, how they’ve treated her over the years; men that have been laughing with her one moment, then grabbed her by the throat the next.