Emma Pallant chats to Viv Graver about her connection to A Christmas Carol and the attraction of Shakespearean roles she has played.

What is it about this play that finds you here in Stratford for a third Christmas to play Mrs Cratchit?

Well, I am very attached to this Mrs Cratchit. David Edgar [who adapted Dickens's story for the stage] has given her a voice and it is one that is instrumental in Scrooge’s conversion. There have been few women in his life; his mother he never knew and his sister died prematurely. In the business world he has made his own, he does not encounter them. So when he is taken to observe the Cratchit family he is forced to confront the image he has created by her bitter words. He realises that she is a formidable woman.

And there is the music and choreography of the show which I love, as the whole ensemble is involved in telling the story.

The bonus of the writer in rehearsal is welcome. Both David and Rachel, the director, did not want to repeat the show without revisiting certain moments, clarifying, highlighting. It is a creative process that makes the play of now. 

Emma Pallant as Mrs Cratchit with the Cratchit family seated around a table
Emma Pallant as Mrs Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, 2022
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

Your theatrical roles here and elsewhere have been considerable having played Beatrice, Imogen, Lady Macbeth but was it Isabella in Measure for Measure that was your first encounter with Shakespeare?

Yes, I wasn’t really aware of Shakespeare until I studied Antony and Cleopatra at college when I was 17. I had a marvellous teacher and found myself playing Isabella in the college production. It was so difficult to learn the lines and I didn’t understand some of them at all. I approached the text as lines on a page but once I was on my feet and could physicalise the language it worked. It is no good to approach it as poetry, it needs to be experienced physically and emotionally.

Have you worked with Rachel Kavanaugh before on Shakespeare?

Yes, I did Cymbeline with her at Regent’s Park and that was another revelation. In a breeches part you tend to get a more connected relationship with the audience, which I loved.

Emma Pallant as Dina in James Fenton's translation of Tamar's Revenge, performed at the Swan Theatre, 2004
Emma Pallant as Dina in Tamar's Revenge, performed at the Swan Theatre, 2004
Photo by Robert Day © RSC Browse and license our images

This show involves a number of children who appear professionally. How is this achieved?

The rehearsal process is vigorous and ongoing throughout.  So David Siebert (our Associate Director) gives them notes and ideas to consider to keep their performance alive. They may have ideas themselves which can be included so they feel part of the creative process.

Schoolchildren in period costume across the stage with Scrooge looking on in A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol, 2022
Photo by Manuel Harlan © RSC Browse and license our images

How important is audience and theatre space?

I love working in the round as in the RST, the Swan, The Globe and The New Vic. The audience is a vital ingredient in performance, the cast monitors their response and that can affect playing time, expanding or contracting.

In As You Like It you played Jacques. How did you approach this traditionally male role?

The director set me a challenge, a week to convince him it could be played by a woman. I approached Jacques thinking: Who is this person? Why do they use these words? What is their aim? This is how I found the cynical voice of the outsider, the observer.  The role stayed as a woman.

What advice would you give to young actors wanting to play Shakespeare?

Approach it on your feet. Speak the words searching for the physicality of the language. Absorb it into your body. You have to move to get from page to stage.

And future productions for you?

I would love to act in the refurbished Swan.

Emma Pallant appears as Mrs Cratchit in A Christmas Carol until January 1, 2023.

Viv Graver

Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.

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