BWW Interview: Kirsty Bushell On Playing Juliet at Shakespeare's Globe

Kirsty Bushell in rehearsal
for Romeo and Juliet

Unusually, Kirsty Bushell comes to Juliet later in a stellar career, which includes everything from the title role in Salisbury Playhouse's Hedda Gabler to Disgraced at Bush Theatre and Ivo van Hove's Antigone. English National Opera boss Daniel Kramer's production, co-starring Edward Hogg and opening Emma Rice's second and final Globe season, begins on 22 April.

What was the first play or film that inspired you?

It was a film: Bedknobs and Broomsticks, when I was four years old. Watching it, my jaw hit the floor and I thought "I don't know what they're doing, but I want to do that". And then later, in terms of theatre, it would have been the village pantomime. Again I was very young, but I just remember laughing so hard and loving the sense of community in the room.

When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in acting and how did your family respond?

I suppose when I joined the Norwich Theatre Arts Course, when I was about 13, and I realised maybe I could act. Still, for a long time I really thought acting was for unicorns though. I thought you had to have a magic wand or something to join.

Artistic endeavour is not part of my family's experience, so they were supportive but a bit bemused. My mum still laments that I could have done anything I wanted - not quite realising that I am! But, for sure, they never consciously made things tough. It was just a bit weird for them I guess.

Where did you train?


What was your first professional acting job?

A world tour for Out of Joint.

Kirsty Bushell and Edward Hogg
in rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet

Have you always found Shakespeare accessible, and what do you find engaging about the way he writes women?

No, it was really only when I did a job for the education department for the National Theatre, and we as actors were taught to teach Shakespeare and to lead workshops. As part of that, lots of actors came to work with us. That was when the penny started to drop. What I love about Shakespeare is that he keeps giving - those pennies keep dropping.

I think I'm only really now learning how he writes women. Juliet is teaching me that he really loved them, admired and respected them. I think he was a feminist of his time. Daniel said to me the other day of Juliet, "Oh, she would have gone to Harvard", and it's true - she would have been an amazing lawyer. She is a stunning creature. So many of his women are. It would have been fab to have had more of them.

What was your reaction to be offered Juliet at this stage in your career?

Whhhhhhaaaaaatttttyeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhyessssswhooooooooohoooo..... I think that was my response.

How do you think the casting of you and Edward will change people's responses to the play?

Hmm, I dunno - I'll let you be the judge of that. I know what the intention is, but whether or not we pull that off remains to be seen.

Did you find it easy or challenging to connect with the character?

I found it surprisingly easy. She feels current to me, not like I'm staring down the corridor of memory. That's probably testimony to the honesty of Shakespeare's creation.

I was curious to explore how demented she was! In all seriousness, as someone who commits suicide I knew she was troubled, but I was curious to explore the nature of their love, whether it was a bit poisonous. I think we tend to forget that they kill themselves, and forget to question whether or not that is an act of love. Remarkably, it does feel like that's what she believes. And I feel that Shakespeare really believes in the sacred nature of love. But these poor guys - they didn't have a lot of options. I think he respectfully witnesses their despair.

Kirsty Bushell and Edward Hogg
in rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet

Where/when is this version set, and how does it speak to today's audience?

In a modern, imaginative space. If you'll permit my indulgence - in and through Daniel's soul!

I hope it speaks of our desire to connect with others and to live, to live happily and well. To fight for what you believe in, the cost of not letting go, and how important it is that we respect each other and set a good example to our children. I think he's also examining the consequences of not having healthy boundaries. Romeo and Juliet love each other but they don't know how to truly look after each other - they're too vulnerable themselves.

This is your first time performing at the Globe - have you been given advice from other actors?

Yes, it is! Erm yes, don't try and control anything, because anything can happen. I'm thrilled and terrified and excited. Oh - and wear thermals.

As an opera director too, does Daniel bring something different to the table?

Daniel's been so prepared, which I think he's learnt through working in opera. And yet very beautifully, he's always willing to stay flexible. Also I imagine it will have inspired him to take certain theatrical risks; it may have inspired the breadth of his vision. He hears the text in terms of musicality - it's a score for him. But ultimately, I feel, it's his experience as a human that truly sparks and inspires his gifts. The man is a blessing to work with in so many ways.

Any dream roles or collaborators for the future?

I want to play Lady Macbeth with Johnny Harris as Mr. I want to play Kate in the Shrew with Hari Dhillon as Petruchio. I wouldn't say no to Cleopatra. Am I too old to play Portia? Ah, and Hermione too - so many beautiful women! Can I do it with Daniel? Or Ivo Van Hove - with people who are rigorously involved in the rawness, messiness, insanity, paradoxical beauty of the human condition - thankfully there are many in our industry. I also have a burning desire to direct, so perhaps I might encourage myself!

Finally, any advice for budding actresses?

Chekhov said "stick to your own path and leave competition to others", and Nina in The Seagull says, "it's not fame, it's not the glory, it's not all the things I used to dream about, it's the ability to endure, have faith, bear your cross". Watch your self-esteem getting locked up with whether or not you are working, keep enjoying your life whatever happens with work, but yes tenacity and also - it's not just for unicorns. Keep on.

Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare's Globe 22 April-9 July

Photo credit: Robert Workman

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