Pathways to Shakespeare

Carla Mendonca

February 18, 2013

Carla Mendonca as Elephant in The Mouse and His ChildCarla's parents were both professional dancers in Portugal before moving to England where she grew up. She attended the Rambert Ballet School although her preference was for character dancing, tap and later flamenco. She considered roller skates an extension of her legs!

She knows that she had the lead role, aged five, in her junior school production of The King of the Golden River, loved the experience but can't remember the story.

She went on to grammar school but did not encounter Shakespeare until exams: Romeo and Juliet at O Level and Othello at A Level.

I get the impression that Shakespeare was done for exam purposes, not seen as a play to be staged. 'We were made to read....' she says which suggests something less than enjoyable for the student.

But she did relish the school musicals put on every year and took part in West Side Story, Orpheus and the Underworld and Oliver. Having studied English, Art and History at A Level she went on to do Theatre Studies and Dramatic Art at Warwick University.

In the 80s this was something of a novelty. Warwick was one of the few universities offering Drama at degree level. A joint honours course, Theatre Studies was academic and erudite.

Carla says she got the impression that they were teaching Drama to those they believed would be teaching Drama themselves. Dramatic Art was a different component. Physically separated on campus, it catered for practical work but there was no liason between the two.

Although students were involved in some Theatre in Education (TIE) and Community theatre there was no outlet for expressively-creative work. Only 20% on the course actually went on to an acting career. They had been told that had they wanted to act they should have applied to RADA.

It was outside the course that Carla found the stimulus she craved. The Warwick Drama Society was entirely run by students and the university generously gave them slots for their performances in the main house or studio. Although theatre was her preferred choice, she was advised that television would bring her more exposure and she worked for Channel 4 after leaving Warwick.

There had been little experience of Shakespearean performance in her life so far. Her first viewing had come through the BBC television series. She had seen Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in Macbeth.

Her own experience was in musical and political theatre. But John Rettalack saw her potential as a Shakespearean actor and offered her the role of Viola in Twelfth Night, for the Oxford Stage Company. Her reaction? 'It was terryfying. I read the play and thought how do I learn all this?'

But, Carla says, as you consider the words it goes in. So relatively quickly she had her Viola but knew that there was something not quite right, It was Malcolm Hebden, playing Malvolio, who told her what it was she had not considered, the shared line that Shakespeare gives to characters. When she took this into account the pace and rhythms became fine. 'It was a revelation to me', she admits.

Carla says you learn a lot from your fellow actors, especially those who appear to speak the thoughts of characters spontaneously.

Working with the same director, John Retallack, she went on to do As You Like It, playing Celia, a role with few words but a wonderful rapport with the audience who can see what you are thinking. Measure for Measure brought her the role of Isabella, someone she understood in what she says is a very complex play.

Then she played Regan with Philip Voss as Lear. Her favourite play because it shows what wrongly-directed love can do Regan, she says, is more subtly dangerous than Goneril. The Oxford Stage Company toured Shakespeare to wide acclaim.

At the RSC, Carla plays Elephant on roller skates - that childhood skill revived and refined on a revolving stage, for The Mouse and his Child, and understudies Meg Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Carla's advice to youngsters approaching Shakespeare:  

• See a play, rather than read it first

• Don't expect to understand all of the story

• Enjoy it in your own way

• At your own level

 

by Viv Graver  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare