February 28, 2013
Bethan Walker plays Hermione and Perdita in the public understudy performance of The Winter's Tale.
It's a big ask to be expected to understudy both Hermione and Perdita in your RSC debut season. But a challenge that Bethan Walker embraced, delivering a remarkable performance, along with an equally impressive Ben Whybrow as Leontes.
So how has she made it to the RSC after seven years of acting? She doesn't come from an acting family but her love of drama grew consistently, nurtured by her drama teacher, Ruth Williams, at Bishop Gore Comprehensive School Swansea, where she studied GCSE drama and then theatre studies A Level.
From the age of 13 she was involved in the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre, attending residential courses each summer. This, she says was her training ground where she learnt the discipline and in an ensemble. And there at 16 she had a nice introduction to Shakespeare, playing Miranda in The Tempest.
After A Levels she went to Aberystwth University to do a BA Hons in Theatre Studies. Academically interesting it certainly was but she realized that she was really wanting professional training and switched to the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
In 2006 she won The Carlton Hobbs Radio Drama Award. She still enjoys working on radio Drama, a totally different ballgame from theatre, she says.
Her training with an audience came from working at The Globe in A Midsummer Night's Dream,directed by Jonathan Munby. She spent three years there and on tour. At first she played Peaseblossom, then Snug and Puck. As the sassy Puck she had to play the audience, there was no room for nerves and she learnt how to include an audience of 2,000, at all levels.
'I grew a lot in Puck, becoming bigger, brasher.'
At the Globe she was first directed by Lucy Bailey in Timon of Athens and now at the RSC she has been directed by her again in The Winter's Tale.
In the public understudy run I was impressed by her faithful reflection of the acting styles used by Tara Fitzgerald and Emma Noakes. She seemed to inhabit the skin of both the actors and characters they played. I wanted to know how she did it.
'Stalking' she describes it as: stalking the actor without being obtrusive or intrusive. Constant observation in rehearsal, she tells me.
There were just four days given to rehearsal for this performance with the assistant director, Elle While. However she and Ben knew from the start that they would have to put in a lot more work than that and met to rehearse together whenever they could. The relationship was based on trust and the realization that there was no time to get it wrong. Ben quickly became a real friend and was helpful, encouraging Beth to really use the words. She has great admiration for him and feels he has taught her a lot.
She knows that she is young for the role, has not had the experience of pregnancy and yet she had to consider how this would affect her physicality and vocality. The pregnancy pad really helped – with a bump she could adjust her body weight. She had to learn how to sustain the pain of the body blow inflicted by Leontes which brings on the birth.
Sometimes in performance you are rewarded with a moment of truth. And she got it in the actual public performance when she was so upset by this violent treatment meted out to her by Ben. Ben whom she had trusted, worked so closely with? Then it came to her. These feelings belonged to Hermione in relation to Leontes. She had really got there!
Friends said: 'You'll be fine as Perdita. Good luck with Hermione!' But it was the challenge of Hermione which brought her real satisfaction.
And then to take on the completely contrasting ebullient Perdita and with a northern accent that was still evolving in the main performance.
And then back to Hermione for the statue scene. It really was: Who's playing who now? for the audience.
This must count as a highlight for Beth's Shakespearean acting and one that we were privileged to witness.
by Viv Graver
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