Lucy Ellinson’s stamina in a project that has not only made demands on her as an actor but has also required her to be an ambassador for Shakespeare in taking the play to the nation has been amazing.
Pathway to acting
Lucy’s experience of Shakespeare at school was minimal. It was not until GCSE that she found herself with an old school copy of The Merchant of Venice trying to unpick Portia’s speech on mercy with the help of footnotes. In Sixth Form in North Wales she was taken to see three RSC performances. Simon Russell Beale’s performance as Ariel in The Tempest blew her mind. They had an RSC workshop and she was asked whether she had thought of becoming an actor. It wasn’t the sort of pathway to a career her family would have considered but she joined Theatre Clwyd Youth group and enjoyed summer school there.
She read English at Leeds University, and was inspired by a number of theatre practitioners and directors she met, from around the world. She regards this as her unofficial training. Lucy moved into fringe theatre and became committed to experimental devised collaboration. “Opening up the barriers to theatre” she calls it. It was when she first met Erica Whyman.
She later moved on to text-based drama, but always with contemporary plays. And she says there was little on her CV to recommend her for a Shakespearean role when Erica called her to audition for Puck.
Lucy had worked in panto and done male impersonation in cabaret and found inspiration for her Puck there. It is the character that the children love and most want to play. Perhaps this link with panto they may have seen helps to bridge the gap in their theatrical experience. And Lucy points out that children read Puck’s body language easily.
I was interested to know whether she had specialised in physical theatre at some point. No, she had never developed this style, but Michael Corbidge working with her on the show as voice coach told her: “Let the language tell you how to move. It will arise from Shakespeare’s text.” And it did, with a bit of help from the movement director, she was there.
She still felt there was something missing as they approached the previews. Erica held her back on experimentation until she finally gave her the green light saying “now unleash everything you have”, and Lucy discovered the audience as the essential missing ingredient. She worked with them, through them, inviting their collaboration. And it was joyous!
Puck was really special to the fairies she worked with from schools, opening up for them the whole world of theatre. She was amazed by their level of understanding and strength of feeling towards the characters. They were “outraged” by the control exerted by Egeus, Theseus and Oberon. They thought Puck had to contend with an unreasonable grown-up in Oberon, and the quarrel between Oberon and Titania they recognised as being “like mum and dad arguing.” They naturally related Shakespeare to their own life experience.
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.