Interview: 'She's Quite a Character!': Actor Clare Perkins on Modernising Shakespeare and Playing Mistress Quickly in Robert Icke's PLAYER KINGS

'We've got the Old English language, but it's a modern production. So that's quite exciting as well, bringing the two things together.'

By: Feb. 22, 2024
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Interview: 'She's Quite a Character!': Actor Clare Perkins on Modernising Shakespeare and Playing Mistress Quickly in Robert Icke's PLAYER KINGS
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Player Kings, a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, arrives on the West End in April. The show, adapted and directed by Robert Icke, stars Sir Ian McKellen as Sir John Falstaff, Toheeb Jimoh as Hal and Richard Coyle as King Henry IV as England deals with a corrupt government and divided people.

BroadwayWorld caught up with Clare Perkins, who plays Mistress Quickly. We discussed taking on a modern version of Shakespeare, dissecting his language and what she hopes audiences take away from the work.

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

I always wanted to be an actress. From as young as I can remember, people would say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I was like, “I'm going be an actress!” Going to be, not want to be. I didn't really do much youth theatre or anything. I did a bit of dance, and then I went to drama college!

Player Kings
Toheeb Jimoh & Robert Icke in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

And what made you want to be involved in this production of Player Kings

First of all, I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to! I was like, “Hmm . . . Shakespeare . . . Not sure.” But I really wanted to work with Rob [Icke]. I saw Mr. Burns at the Almeida many years ago, and I was like, “I need to work with that man who directed that show!” So I was not sure about the Shakespeare, but it was Rob, and it was Ian McKellen. So that's like, “Yeah, let's do it.”

So what has it been like taking on Shakespeare?

It's much more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be! I'm really enjoying rehearsals and getting stuck into the language. We've got the Old English language, but it's a modern production. So that's quite exciting as well, bringing the two things together. 

What have the rehearsals been like?

It's been very detailed, and everybody’s pitching in. It seems like everything's coming together quite nicely! Fingers crossed it continues! [Laughs]

For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare's work, can you tell us about your character and the role that you play within this show?

So Mistress Quickly is the hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, so she owns the pub where Falstaff and Hal and some of the other characters come. It's a rough pub with . . . Let's say two different kinds of clientele. We've got normal punters and then we've got gangs of thieves and whoever who frequent it as well, so Mistress Quickly is a character who has to have her wits about her.

She's smart, but she's not clever. There are some things written into the part where she uses words that she doesn't quite know what they mean or she gets her words wrong, but then she is sharp enough to know who owes her money, who’s coming in and out of her pub and basically to keep order within. She’s quite a character!

Player Kings
Some of the cast in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

What has it been like working with this incredible cast?

Fantastic! So great. Watching other people do their stuff is amazing. And hearing other people use the language really well gives you the confidence to then go home and work on how I, myself, am using that Shakespearean language. To hear it delivered, especially by Sir Ian, in such a brilliant way, so when people speak, you can understand what they're saying, because I think that's the biggest bar to Shakespeare - sometimes we hear it and we're like, “What? I don’t understand what you said.”

We've got some great assistant directors working with us as well who've got a big dictionary of Shakespearean words, so they're always on hand to find out what it means. And it's nice! We have general discussions as well, while we're rehearsing, about what the line means. Everybody can pitch in and there are some people who are better at it than others, but we're all getting there!

Do you think this has encouraged you to do more Shakespeare?

Maybe! [Laugh] I mean, I love language anyway. So I love it, but it's very different reading it than it is speaking it because you want your character's lines to be clear. You want your intent to be understood. At the beginning, it felt like I was translating. I had the words, and I had to translate it back into how I’d say it, and then bring it forth into the Shakespearean language. But it's getting much easier now. Not exactly tripping off the tongue, but it will be! [Laughs]

What do you hope audiences take away from Player Kings?

I think all of Shakespeare's plays are very human - they're about human nature. It's about a country divided along the lines of politics, which is pretty similar to today. Politics, royalty, loyalty, all of those kinds of things are in there. So I hope it's a great story. I hope that people come and are rooting for one character or another. It’s great, because you've got characters like Falstaff, who are not necessarily good people, but you love his character. People love a villain, and he's a great villain. He's a bit of a trickster! So I hope people get involved and root for one character or another. A good, interesting evening at the theatre. With some laughs! [Laughs]

Player Kings
Ian McKellen in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Do you have a favourite character in Player Kings?

Falstaff. That's my favourite. Especially when you hear Sir Ian say the lines! He's a pretty funny guy. Wily, smart, conniving, but ultimately lovable. 

And finally, how would you describe Player Kings in one word? 


Player Kings runs at the Noël Coward Theatre, 1 April – 22 June 2024, with previews at New Wimbledon Theatre, 1 March – 9 March 2024, and Manchester Opera House, 14 – 23 March 2024.