BWW Interview: Lucy Phelps Talks AS YOU LIKE IT
With rehearsals underway for As You Like It, we caught up with Lucy who revealed this is not only her first encounter with the play, but the character too. Talking about expectations of others, Lucy also shares her initial impressions of Rosalind, namely (and in her own words): "How has she not been in my life before now?!"
What's your earliest memory of Shakespeare?
I grew up in Worcester, which isn't too far from Stratford-upon-Avon and my Mum and Dad took me to a few RSC shows. The one I remember most vividly was King Lear back in 1999.
Also at school, I studied him in Drama and English Literature lessons. My teacher was very good at getting us up on our feet and saying the words aloud, rather than having our heads in our desk. As soon as you're on your feet, the words and the story come alive. You stop intellectualizing the text and experience it.
And was it always acting that you wanted to pursue?
Well, I always loved the arts when I was growing up. But I think the first thing I thought I wanted to be was a "Tornado Chaser"! I don't even know if that is a job, I think I basically just wanted to be Helen Hunt in Twister!
I then fell in love with learning languages at quite a young age, and studied French and Spanish at university. But performing was always present in some form, it never went away. And they're definitely linked - performing and language learning. They are both centred around pretending and words.
So I guess I like getting inside other people's brains and cultures, discovering how language forms you as a person.
I've actually tried to continue working with both. I translated a play from French into English which had a run at the Arcola theatre last year, and I've just started translating for other theatres/theatre companies and European writers.
It's work that really informs your acting as you're looking closely at the writer's intention, the characters' intentions, the detail of the word choices etc. All that helps enormously when you come back to working with Shakespeare's texts.
It reminds me to really ask myself, "Why has he given this character this specific word, in this moment?"
You've been lucky enough to work on a bit of Shakespeare in recent years, with the Rome Season at the RSC. What was that first season like for you?
It was hugely exciting.
As I mentioned before the RSC was one of the first places I'd ever watched theatre, along with our family trips to other local theatres in Malvern and Birmingham. So to know I was going to be performing somewhere that I had come as a child, to be a part of a company with such history and excellence, alongside my own love of Shakespeare, it was a really exciting prospect for me.
The season itself was a lot of fun, and madly busy!
What is that rep environment like?
You learn so much. For a lot of us that year it was our debut season, so we were discovering it all together. It's what's wonderful about working at the RSC: we knew we had a thirteen-month journey with the plays, but also with each other.
I learnt a huge amount about how the company works and watching my peers and the more seasoned actors in the company tackle those epic Roman narratives.
You're in rep once again this season, appearing in As You Like It and Measure for Measure. How familiar were you with those plays?
Funnily enough, I had never read or seen As You Like It until preparing for the audition.
I know, how is that possible! It's a lot of people's favourite play.
So it was actually really lovely to come to it as if it was a piece of new writing, (like you always should try to with Shakespeare really), and not have any baggage! Because a lot of the plays do come with baggage, don't they? If you're auditioning for Lady Macbeth, you've probably studied it, seen a number of productions before and have X's performance in your mind somewhere.
With Measure for Measure though, I knew that quite well and had studied it at A-Level and it was already one of my faves!
You're currently in rehearsals for As You Like It. What were your initial thoughts and impressions of Rosalind, encountering her for the first time?
How has she not been in my life before now?!
I wish I were even a smidgeon as articulate, clever, passionate, witty, fearless, vivacious and whole-hearted and giving as her. She has such fire and spirit.
She's a character who is endlessly developing and expanding who she is, discovering who she is through drinking in knowledge from the world and her experiences. She's a philosopher. I don't think you ever stop learning from Rosalind.
Do you have a favourite line of hers, which speaks to you?
Loads of them. One that immediately comes to mind is a scene she has with Orlando, in which her disguise character Ganymede refers to Rosalind as "Human, as she is."
Rosalind is completely human - she's flawed and vulnerable, she's growing in confidence, sometimes she's angry, sometimes she's sad then happy. She's working out who she is and who she wants to be. And she has an overwhelming capacity for empathy and depth of love.
In addition to playing Rosalind, you also play Rosalind playing Ganymede...and then at one point, Rosalind playing Ganymede playing Rosalind!
Yes! You've got these slightly different presentations of Ganymede each time he appears, depending on the pressures of the scene and who he's with. Once Ganymede and Orlando meet in the forest, it develops into something else altogether.
But I think regardless of the various versions of him, Rosalind's potential to be Ganymede has always been inside of her; it's just fully realised and experimented within the forest.
Thinking about gender, how do you think these plays will speak to today?
Well the wonderful thing about Shakespeare is he is always relevant. How does he do it?!
With this season, a strong female voice is definitely being blasted out across the plays. But not necessarily in a call to arms way; I'd say it's more a 'call for conversation'. To continue those discussions on equality, inequality, on how we as humans can work collaboratively to live and love better together.
Life is short, so let's accept each other, collaborate, adapt and change AND LOVE.
Finally, what does it mean to be taking on not one but two iconic roles: Rosalind and Isabella?
I feel mind-blowingly lucky to have the baton for a short time to play these extraordinary women, particularly at the RSC. The baton is passed from whoever has most recently played it and their interpretation, you have a go and then you hand it on.
But it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to play either of these women. I'll give it my best.
Credit: Topher McGrillis