It is a touch unfortunate that the day on which I am due to interview two of the West End’s most glamorous actresses, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Katherine Kingsley and Susannah Fielding, nature has dictated that the air will be muggier than a cupboard full of oversized cups.
I arrive at the rehearsal studios a sweaty mess while Kingsley and Fielding, playing Helena and Hermia in Shakespeare’s comedy, who profess to have been taking part in ‘physical’ rehearsals, look pristine. It is as if the fairies are having their fun with me rather than with the pair’s characters who, in the Bard’s forest-set tale, have their love lives tweaked by interfering imps.
The production, the fourth in the acclaimed Michael Grandage Company season in which, as its title might suggest, each show is directed by the former Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, also stars double Olivier Award winner Sheridan Smith as Titania and Little Britain and Big School star David Walliams, entertaining London audiences with his Bottom.
As I subtly try to mop my brow and attempt to not be distracted by the trickle of perspiration making its way surreptitiously down my cheek, Kingsley and Fielding graciously focus instead on the directorial talents of Grandage, the life of an actress and why so many of the Dream cast are eating salad and working out:
What made you want to be part of the production?
Both: Michael Grandage.
Kingsley: He’s definitely living up to his reputation. You get the call and “Yes, I’ll come and audition for that.”
Fielding: And Shakespeare in the West End in what’s been a really interesting and successful season.
How is working with Michael Grandage?
Kingsley: I worked at the Donmar Warehouse a lot while he was the Artistic Director, so I know the atmosphere that he creates. There’s a joy that seems to be bred out of his leadership.
Fielding: He’s a great enabler. He absolutely facilitates your own creativity and then hones it. He’s not one of those directors who tells you where to stand, where to put your arm and how to say a line, so working with him is a truly creative experience. It feels genuinely collaborative, which is why you do theatre isn’t it?
Something Michael’s encouraging us to do, which feels really relevant, is we’re trying to make the language sound as modern and as connected, but still honouring the poetry, as possible. I think that’s the most important thing, to make it sound like I’m talking to you now as much as possible.
Kingsley: Actually, in some ways the lovers have an easier role in doing that because their language is so much more… we don’t have a lot of imagery, we wear our hearts on our sleeve.
Fielding: It’s very emotional, there’s not a lot of subtext, it’s very raw. There’s lots of Ohs and Ahs.
Kingsley: We are who we are and we’re just trying to make it instinctive, naturalistic and real.
Fielding: Hopefully that will be entertaining enough.
On Twitter you mentioned that you’d given up gluten and wine for the production, Katherine…
Kingsley: I tried and failed. I gave up gluten for a bit and I felt amazing. I need to get back on it. I need to get fit for this job.
Fielding: This is the healthiest cast you will ever come across. I don’t normally eat things like bulgur wheat and feta cheese [she says pointing to her lunch]. There’s even some green in there. But because it’s a physical show and there are going to be elements where people are fairly scantily clad…
Kingsley: All the guys are gym-ing it up.
Do you find you often have to give up certain things for your job?
Kingsley: When I was doing Lina Lamont in Singin’ In The Rain, vocally it was an absolute killer. It’s so extreme. I think musical theatre tends to be more physically extreme because it’s physically demanding. So yeah, you have to live like a nun depending on what you’re doing.
Fielding: I can’t handle going out and doing lots of late night drinking and talking in loud bars.
Kingsley: That’s the thing that does it, going out afterwards and shouting over people.
Fielding: Or shouting over music.
Kingsley: I think whatever you’re doing there has to be an element of discipline about it. Eight shows a week is a big commitment, especially if you want to feel like you’ve got a life beyond it too. For me it’s about wanting to not struggle through a show. I want to enjoy it and give 100% and feel like my body is able to give 100%, so my life has to tailor to that.
Fielding: You have to look after your body because that’s what we’re served by. I think you have to be reliable, professional and make sure your body can do what’s required of it for that particular show.
Kingsley: We’ve got somebody in our cast at the moment who’s in a show and rehearsing with us during the day. That takes its toll. Then if you’ve got an audition to go to you’ve got to honour that and be as good as you can, but at the same time you’re back in the rehearsal room and giving that 150%. It’s that balancing act.
What can audiences expect from your production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Fielding: I think it will be energetic and hopefully will just capture where people are at the moment. It would be nice if people come to see it and experience it as a modern play rather than it being highbrow stuff.
Kingsley: I think we’re going to try and make it as contemporary and applicable as it possibly can be.
Fielding: For people who’ve never seen Shakespeare before, for people who’ve not necessarily seen any theatre before, it would be lovely to think that they could follow the story as much as somebody who’s seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream 150 times.
Kingsley: That’s one of the major advantages of these seasons as well; it’s encouraging people to come to the theatre who haven’t been before. The £10 deals and the education programmes running alongside it. It’s really positive in terms of keeping theatre audiences young and fresh.
Fielding: We don’t take that for granted. That’s another thing about this season that is so exciting. It’s not just going to be a sea of blue rinse. Young people will come and see this and experience something, hopefully, that might affect the rest of their lives. It’s giving younger actors an amazing opportunity too. We’ve got two maybe three people in this company just out of drama school. What an amazing opportunity to start your career in the West End with Michael Grandage on a Shakespeare play.
Kingsley: Equally with the assistant directors, it’s an amazing thing for them to experience too. It feels like a bit of a dream job.