May 21, 2013
How do you move from finding Shakespeare's language rather intimidating to feeling that you now 'inhabit' it? This is the line I explored with Pippa Nixon, currently playing Rosalind in As You Like It and Ophelia in Hamlet.
School Shakespeare was good, Pippa says, remembering that she did Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing for English A- Level. She loved the Kenneth Branagh films of these plays along with his Henry V and feels that they made an important contribution to her generation's appreciation of Shakespeare, along with Mel Gibson's Hamlet.
Having studied English, Theatre Studies and Communication Studies at A-Level she achieved three 'A's before going on to do a drama degree at Manchester Metropolitan School of Theatre. Her parents were of the opinion that if she were to study Drama it should be as a degree .She recalls doing Ophelia's 'My Lord, as I was sewing in my closet…' for her audition speech.
Pippa says that at this time she felt that Shakespeare should be spoken in a certain way. Speech and drama classes had taught her about verse speaking, stressing the importance of the iambic pentameter.
She was keen to be classically-trained for acting and during her courses at university presented scenes from Shakespeare in her first year and in her second year Calderon's Life is a Dream was performed in its entirety as the classical element in the course.
Following graduation she spent five years in TV but her leaning towards classical rather than contemporary acting led her to seek work with Creation Company, against the advice of her agent. 'Who is going to see you in Oxford?' was the response.
She spent three months in a company of eight actors in outdoor theatre doing A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Lovers were also the Mechanicals so she was acting the parts of both Hermia and Snug. They had a portacabin as a base for them all and washed their own costumes which in a very inclement summer were always muddy!
Then she found herself at The Globe, playing Jessica in The Merchant of Venice and in 2007 received an Ian Charleson commendation for this work. At The Globe she experienced the luxury of having text and voice coaches and says that her time there was like doing an MA in Shakespeare. She played Hermia again, directed by Jonathan Munby, which had a distinctly Elizabethan feel whereas Zoe Seaton's production for Creation had been modern.
Earlier she had done a reading of Days of Significance which was to be directed by Maria Aberg. This was a controversial play which took a look at British soldiers in Iraq and really questioned the type of guy considered to be army material. Roy Williams took his inspiration from Much Ado About Nothing, Trish and Ben being a latter day Beatrice and Benedick. Pippa played Trish.
In 2009 she found herself involved in two RSC projects. Shakespeare in a Suitcase, devised by Ben Power, was a taster of RSC Shakespeare for the audiences of New York. Six RSC actors performed 20-minute versions of his plays, promoting the reopening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2010. They would perform at three venues per day.
She was asked to join Greg Doran in Michigan where he was workshopping three plays: Cardenio, Written on the Heart and The Heresy of Love. Subsequently she played Dorotea in Cardenio, Shakespeare's 'lost' play.
She did a Titania reading which led to her playing the role in Nancy Meckler's AMidsummer Night's Dream in the same year, 2011.
In 2012 she was Lady Ann in Roxana Silbert's very popular Richard III with Jonjo O'Neill as Richard. And she was delighted to encounter Maria Aberg as director in King John, where she combined the roles of The Bastard and Hubert, giving the play an unexpected but dramatically interesting twist.
She finds Maria's style liberating and loves exploring the possibilities creatively that make it work for the director's vision, so when she was asked by Maria whether she would be Rosalind her response 'My goodness' became a delighted 'Yes!' Along with this came the role of Ophelia with Jonathan Slinger as Hamlet.
These last three years spent at the RSC in Stratford she regards as something 'given', not planned.
'My relationship with Shakespeare is pretty central to my life', she tells me, She acknowledges how far she has come, learning skills and techniques through the doing of Shakespeare.
Maria Aberg, she says, has been 'a gift' and working with her and Alex Waldmann has really developed her acting expertise. Maria Alberg told us, in a director's interview introducing As You Like It, that her method is to create the world of the play and leave it open to the actors' brilliant ideas.
The input from the actors in playing important moments means that rehearsal is creative , as they collectively explore. Pippa, she said, was born to play Rosalind since she has the ability to present both her vulnerable and strong aspects.
Recently, someone at the theatre observed that with her present roles of Ophelia and Rosalind she is living in two different worlds. But as with Alex Waldmann, work on one play informs another.
Pippa is aware that what Rosalind has, Ophelia never has a chance to have. In this production of Hamlet there is a sense of deep relationships, passionate and physically close. It is there in performance both with Hamlet's father and with Ophelia. We are made aware of what has been destroyed for Hamlet. His look and gesture to the dead Ophelia at the end of the play seem to convey the pity of it all.
So the natural exuberance of Rosalind must seem a welcome escape and an opportunity to celebrate love's intoxication. Perhaps it is this very contrast which brings such joy to the production.
by Viv Graver
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