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INTERVIEW: FIONA SHAW

Shaw Delight Actor and director Fiona Shaw talks to Sarah Lambie about workshopping opera, roles she relates to, and causes close to her heart to explain, comes in respecting and trusting the composer: “When I did Elegy for Young Lovers at the ENO I thought God I don’t know what this is about, but I went to Italy and met Hans Werner Henze – on a Ryanair flight just for the day – and he was so delightful and so old, and I thought, in this opera must be him and sure enough, then I had a ball finding the opera, because I believed that all the fears of his childhood were somewhere in what seemed this cartoonish reality, and quickly it stopped being cartoonish and became quite frightening.”

When I call Fiona Shaw she’s on her way home from RADA. She’s just borrowed a group of students to help her decide how she’s going to direct Cendrillon for Glyndebourne on Tour which begins rehearsals in September. She’s infectiously excited about what her morning’s exploration has done for her understanding of the piece: “Suddenly these characters begin to emerge not as cardboard cut-outs but as people with real psychological problems, and somehow instead of being a children’s story it becomes something about the ill-ease of what it is to be in the world.” Is improvising with actors in this way her usual approach with opera, I ask: “Yes, I did it with Lucretia and it worked incredibly well” (Shaw

14 The Green Room Summer 2018

directed Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia for Glyndebourne on Tour in 2013, and it subsequently re-ran at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at Glyndebourne Festival). “One thing I did with the RADA students for that was the rape scene, because I didn’t want the singers to be embarrassed by it, so I needed to find ways of doing it that could at least be rehearsed – I like to have a possibility limitation so I’m not asking absolutely everything of them.”

Preliminary work on Cendrillon is only one of the plates Shaw is spinning at the moment, though. She’s got a number of projects on the go as an actor: filming in Belfast for Ruth Wilson’s new television series Mrs Wilson; and starting on a second series of Killing Eve by Phoebe WallerBridge, whom Shaw describes as “a genius of language – sort of a Dorothy Parker of the modern age.”

Workshopping with actors isn’t common practice among opera directors, but Shaw finds it a really helpful process: “I think it’s because I’m from the theatre. And I also don’t ever want to decide on a reality, I always want to discover that reality.”

While we’re on her acting career, I ask Shaw something which arises from my own experience. Often in finding a character one is influenced by life – because naturally one brings one’s own truth to a role – but occasionally, roles influence life themselves, and in the discovery of a character written by a playwright or screenwriter one thinks I’d love to be more like that person. So has she ever played somebody whom she would like to be more like, herself?

Part of this discovery, she goes on

“Well,” she says, much to my delight,

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The Green Room Issue 2 Summer 2018 : USA