Interview: 'I've Never Played a Character Like Her': Actor Faith Omole on Power, Intense Rehearsal and Taking on the Role of Regan in KING LEAR

'She's a really fascinating character to play and she's been so wondrous to get to know.'

By: Feb. 28, 2024
Interview: 'I've Never Played a Character Like Her': Actor Faith Omole on Power, Intense Rehearsal and Taking on the Role of Regan in KING LEAR
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Yaël Farber's exciting take on Shakespeare's King Lear has arrived at the Almeida Theatre, winning rave reviews

As the cast settle into the run, BroadwayWorld had the chance to chat with Faith Omole, who plays Regan, one of Lear’s daughters. We discussed how she first got into the theatre world, what it has been like to take on the role of Regan and what she hopes audiences take away from King Lear.

How did you first get into the world of theatre? What made you want to be a part of it?

I really loved it when I was a kid. At first, I wanted to write and sing. Then I started doing drama in school and it was the only place that I would be quiet and really focused. And where I didn't ask any questions! [Laughs] I always wanted to ask questions back about everything, but in drama, I just wanted to soak up everything and listen. I was always obsessed with stories. As a kid, I would read books with a light under the duvet. And I was like, “Oh, this is another way of storytelling, but you get to be a part of the story.” And that was really cool! So I remember being fascinated with it in that sense, but not really understanding that it was a job until I saw a blooper reel and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, these people are having fun and they're creating stuff! This sounds great - I'll just do this!”

Had you been a fan of Shakespeare before joining this production?

I didn't fall in love with Shakespeare until drama school. I just assumed I'd never really do it. I don't know why, but I just assumed that it wouldn't be a part of my career or anything like that. And during drama school, I remember one of my teachers making quite a point of saying, “There is space for you in that kind of world.” And I was so fascinated with the language. I love the way Shakespeare writes - I just love the drive and the drum of it all. It just sits in your heart, and he's written it in that way. Once I got the bug for it, it didn't stop. But it didn't happen until a bit later in life, maybe 19, 20. That's when I was like, “Okay, I think I might do some of this.”

And what made you want to join this production of King Lear?

So many things! Yaël Farber, of course you want to work with Yaël! It's not just her vision, but it's the loyalty she has to emotions and real-life circumstances. When she presents something on stage, she presents it in all its beauty or brutality, and I think that's really, really exciting. Danny Sapani as King Lear is just so awesome! Goodness me, is he astonishing. And I knew Clarke Peters was going to be it and he's quite a hero. I saw those names and I was like, “Absolutely!” I knew Akiya Henry was gonna be playing Goneril, I'll be her sister any day! I have the best line of sisters because I've also got Gloria Obianyo. All of us together, it's really beautiful and I'm really proud of what we've become.

So the cast, the direction, the theatre . . . The Almeida, you're blessed to work there. There's a reason why many people want to work there. They're quite dedicated to creating really fantastic theatre. Our industry feels when the Almeida puts on a production and I think that's a really great thing. The fact they've chosen to do this version of King Lear with Yaël and Danny and Clarke . . . Absolute chef's kiss!

For those unfamiliar with the story, can you tell us a bit about your character and the role they play within King Lear?

So, King Lear . . . I play one of his daughters, Regan. He has three daughters and the play begins with him deciding that he will be dividing the kingdom between the three daughters and their respective husbands. All we have to do is tell him how much we love him. And for Reagan, she does that to the best of her ability, but it's what comes with it, which is having our father in our house and his 100 knights. And the reality of having to take care of our father when he doesn't rule over us brings out some emotions - it certainly surprises my character!

Reagan is quite broken. On the surface, it's a presentation of serenity and beauty but within, she's quite tortured. A lot of the damage for her happened a long time ago. As soon as she wields power, it eats her from the inside out until she becomes something quite poisonous and ugly. She breaks every boundary that she has set for herself in terms of who she loves and where her loyalties lie. She's a really fascinating character to play and she's been so wondrous to get to know - I've never played a character like her. It's quite empowering to explore that ugliness of a person, that fragility of a person. And also the strength! She's very powerful and a lot of the decisions that she makes reverberate through that play. Everybody in that play feels what she does, and that's quite exciting. She learnt that from her father because her father is a very powerful man. Her father is king, and so he has put her up to be a queen.

Interview: 'I've Never Played a Character Like Her': Actor Faith Omole on Power, Intense Rehearsal and Taking on the Role of Regan in KING LEAR
Faith Omole
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

What was the rehearsal process like for King Lear?

It was wonderfully intense! [Laughs] It was so many hours. The first thing we did, very early on, was establish trust and establish play as a company, and that was so necessary. King Lear, the way it's written, it's quite episodic, so you have to make sure you're aligned in the respect you give to each other, in the honour you give to each other . . . As you bring something and another actor brings something back, you have to be Ready to Play with them and catch whatever they're throwing at you. Yaël and Imo [Knight], who's our movement director, they were really intentional about creating the language when we're not using verse. When we're not using the text, how do we relate to each other? How do our bodies relate to each other? What do we see in each other? They were very intentional about that. And it meant that as the weeks progressed, there was something to anchor us back to. But my goodness, it was many hours! Six days a week, all around rehearsing, helping each other with lines, going through all the text.

Interview: 'I've Never Played a Character Like Her': Actor Faith Omole on Power, Intense Rehearsal and Taking on the Role of Regan in KING LEAR
In rehearsal
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

My rehearsal process has been better informed by how much of other people's rehearsals I've watched, studying what other people are creating in different scenes and knowing the world I'm a part of. It's instinctual, the way a lot of these actors are working and studying. That has been really helpful for me during this whole process, but it was a lot of hours, a lot of cake. [Laughs] That's what got me through! 

And what have performances so far been like?

It needed to go out to the audience - it needed to! It's the last thing that slots in. I love to do that, I love theatre! Theatre is truly powerful. It's amazing. I love that conversation you get to have with an audience as they're watching something. I love being able to feel the intake of breath that the audience has, and the gasps and the laughter. It's been amazing. All of our cast were very ready to take it there, so it's been great. 

What do you hope audiences take away from this production of King Lear?

I know this play was written hundreds of years ago, but I hope they see a lot more of this world in it than they just watch it detached from it. The play is about power, and it's about what a hunger for power will do to you. If you're not careful in your quest for power, you can betray your humanity and humanity around you. And I hope they recognise that in order to be the most powerful in the room, a lot of those people in this play lose and abandon their loved ones. It is not worth it and it only really leads to sorrow. We show people things so they can see what an alternate reality looks like, so they don't have to live it, and I hope they recognise that family and love is a lot more important than rule and state. If they can get that, if they can at least feel it or hold onto a bit of that for days or months or years, then that would be great.

And finally, how would you describe the show in one word?

Either beautifully brutal or brutally beautiful. It's both! 

King Lear runs until 30 March 2024 at the Almeida Theatre.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner