Bristol Old Vic brings together legends of theatre this month as its contemporary production of Shakespeare’s famous political drama, Julius Caesar unfolds. ‘Bristol girl’ Lynn Farleigh, who plays Calpurnia opposite Julian Glover’s lead, shares her thoughts
Was it good to work with students at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
It’s really unusual to combine students and professionals in this way. It’s great to work with them and we each bring different perspectives to the process – they have a tremendous energy and enthusiasm and I hope Julian (Glover), John (Hartoch) and I have some experience to bring to them. It’s important to let them discover their characters then offer a thought or two. We feed in thoughts when suitable.
Have you worked with Julian Glover before?
He and I have been friends for a long time! We were in Medea together at the Lyric Hammersmith in the 1980s. Also he was my boss in Wish Me Luck when I was being heroic in France…
Is the story adapted to appeal to a modern audience?
We are setting it in 2017, so it’s modern in dress and thought. The text is only altered a little to allow for a change of gender for some roles. We did change a line about Calpurnia, as the chance of even Mark Antony’s touch helping her to get pregnant was a step too far!
Lynn with colleague Julian Glover as Caesar, image © Mark Douet
Do you feel Caesar’s story ties in with the political climate today?
There are certainly parallels to be found with the state of things in many countries today. Power struggles, abuse of power, chaos when leaders fight each other. The fickleness, gullibility and cruelty of crowds. Scheming politicians, dictators and people around them who support and feed off them. We all know what the moral message is and seem completely unable to follow it.
Is it essential for children to continue studying Shakespeare’s works?
I fear Shakespeare is generally not well taught in schools, largely due to the various pressures on staff nowadays. For me, he should not be studied academically unless one is specialising in his writing, but I would love all children to have a term of workshops with actors and teachers – playing, exploring the marvellous language and imagery, meeting the wonderful characters and telling the timeless stories and so learning about life, love, society and human nature.
What is Calpurnia’s role in the play?
Calpurnia is not the greatest female part! I do my best to make her strong; a suitable wife for Caesar, but he’s not an easy man to marry!
Which of your past performances is the most memorable for you?
I’ve played both Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible twice so they’re both quite memorable. Every part I’ve played, I’ve always felt, years later, that I could have played it better.
What is the significance of Bristol Old Vic in the theatre world?
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is a great drama school. The students, brilliantly, got first and second place in the Alan Bates Award this year, which is an annual award celebrating graduating students. Bristol Old Vic has an international reputation and every actor wants to work there. As a Bristol girl, it was always somewhere I desperately wanted to play. I’m so delighted to be finally getting the chance.
Have you had any memorable antics or mishaps on stage?
Mishaps, and the agony of trying not to laugh at inappropriate moments, are always with us. It’s the nature of theatre. I have many mishap stories but they are better told over a glass of wine…!
Do you prefer acting to a live audience or filming for television?
I prefer stage work as I love the rehearsal period and the company work. I also love that one has the chance of improving over the length of a run. Also, the answer is in a live audience. They affect every minute of every show and that is the challenge and the joy.
There’s a romantic view of the ‘struggling artist’ – what is the reality?
This is a tough profession. No one makes you do it, of course, but no one can guarantee you work, let alone a career. The highs are high, the lows are low – it’ll always be so. I admire young actors for their courage, confidence and skills. I wish them well and give them love.