BWW Interview: Actress Amy Morgan Talks TRAVESTIES
Amy Morgan's credits include Red Velvet and Hay Fever in the West End, The Beaux' Stratagem at the National Theatre, and, on screen, Father Brown and Mr Selfridge. She's currently starring as Gwendolen in Tom Stoppard's Travesties, which has transferred to the Apollo Theatre following a hit run at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
What was the first play you saw that inspired you?
I think The Wild Duck at the Donmar Warehouse. We were at drama school and I didn't know the play at all. And actually it wasn't so much the play but more Sinead Matthews' performance. She was spellbinding and I was totally captivated. I immediately thought, "This is the kind of thing I want to do". I'm a big fan of hers!
Did you do much acting at school?
I did Drama for GCSE (which I think is an incredibly valuable and important subject for personal development and social skills, not just for acting), and always took part in the Christmas school musical. I had a wonderful drama teacher called Mary Jeffreys who then encouraged me to go to Bridgend Youth Theatre, where my enthusiasm for acting was met with open arms - that's where I really started to wonder if I could do this for a living.
It was under the guidance of Roger Burnell at Bridgend that I realised it could be a possibility. He supported and coached us and helped me to audition for drama schools. I'm very lucky to have the most wonderfully supportive family who always come and see the plays I'm in! They tend to do a big group trip up and we all go out with the cast after.
Where did you train?
I trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and I couldn't recommend it more. It's an incredibly grounded drama school and focuses on enhancing the skills you arrive with, not trying to change you. I came out with a sound knowledge of how to use and prepare my voice and body for theatre, which has proved invaluable to me.
What was your first paid acting job?
My first paid acting job was when I was 16 in a feature film called A Way of Life, directed by the wonderful Amma Asante. Amma has gone on to make some incredible films recently and I couldn't have asked for a better start to my career. She was patient and kind and always encouraging. It was great!
Were you familiar with Travesties beforehand?
I wasn't, no. It's one hell of a play to read - you think you're going mad! But I'd played Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest at drama school, so that helped a lot. But the more I hear the words, even now, the more things you find. Tom has truly written a masterpiece. It's an incredible piece of work.
It's such a complex piece - did you do a lot of homework as a company to understand all the references?
I did quite a lot of prep before we started rehearsals, as I was cast six months before we started, so I had no excuse! We did a week of chatting round a table and talking about all the things we didn't understand. It was very enlightening.
Is it hard to get the balance between the playful form and finding a reality in your character?
Good question! Yes, it can be. Personally, I tend to always approach a character the same way: find the truth in the person and then deal with the challenges that each script throws at you. Because even though 'Gwendolen' is a fictional character from The Importance of Being Earnest, she is also the very real sister of Henry Carr - it's just that he's jumbled up the facts in his head over the years.
So start with the reality questions - how old is she? When did they move to Zurich? Has she met Tristan Tzara before the play begins? - and then start to feed that into the more surreal scenes, like the limerick scene. Which yes, requires more technique than truth! But they're all kind of woven in together - you can't have one without the other, which is what I think makes this play very challenging to perform.
I adored the musical numbers, especially your teeth-gritting duet with Clare. Was that fun to develop?
Haha thanks! Yes it's so much fun, but utterly terrifying. I describe it as a runaway train you can't get off - once the music starts, you're on, and you have to hold on for dear life! I still get nervous about that scene because you really can't afford to lose concentration. Every other verse has the same tune and every verse starts with the same two lines and there must be 20 verses. So it's scary, but the pay-off at the end is great.
What sort of resonance do you think the play has now?
I was talking about this with Freddie the other day - I think it's resonating pretty loudly right now. Some of the lines in this play sound like they've been written in direct response to current affairs, which is making it very exciting to play and sparking quite a lot of debate in the bar after, so I hear!
Lenin's lines on Art's place in society and the freedom of the artist and the free press are particularly resonant. But also the age-old debate of what constitutes Art - still very much a hot topic, and Freddie and Tom's debate about this in Act I is one of my favourite bits in the play.
Any future dream roles or collaborators?
Well my next job - a play called Touch at the Soho Theatre with DryWrite theatre company - is fulfilling one of those! I've wanted to work with Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge again since we did Hay Fever together in 2012, and now I'm going to get the opportunity, so I'm very excited about that. But I would really love to do a dark comedy with someone like Julia Davis, or just something a bit more modern really. I would like to give the corset a rest for a little while!
Finally, any advice for budding performers?
Learn your lines, don't be late and never be an arsehole! But actually, just watch what Bryan Cranston has to say to budding performers in an interview on YouTube - it's the most wonderful advice I can think of and he articulates it much better than I ever could!
Travesties at the Apollo Theatre until 29 April. Book tickets here
Photo credit: Johan Persson