Having met Berowne/Benedick I thought it might be interesting to learn more about Rosaline/Beatrice since these two are at the heart of Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won.
Michelle had set her heart on acting when she was quite young but had enough sense to think that it might not happen.
'I could do Shakespeare forever, I love him,' she says. So how did this love develop? Michelle did LAMDA exams from an early age and says that her first encounter was with Puck and the Epilogue from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
By the time she was 13 she was doing Lady Ann from Richard III. 'There was satisfaction in having some understanding of the words,' she says. 'You didn't get every word but you had access.'
Having done English literature, theatre studies and music at sixth form college, she studied English at university because it was considered the more sensible choice.
However Cardiff University gave her wonderful theatrical opportunities and confirmed her desire to act. She had already met Ed Bennett (Benedick) there in the Dramatic Society and this acquaintance would continue as they both went to RADA. When Christopher Luscombe, the director, came upon the pair chatting away awaiting audition he was quite delighted by this discovery.
Shakespeare on different stages
Michelle has had a rich theatrical experience in the last ten years, working at the National Theatre, the Globe and the RSC in Shakespeare plays.
'He's relevant wherever you put him,' she tells me. There is always the historical context to first consider: when the play was written but because Shakespeare is a great humanist his study of human nature is relevant in many different contexts and can survive a concept or two!
She points out that what you play is a version of the text. Performances are scheduled to last two hours 15 minutes, although you often have a text that in its entirety might be three. What is cut depends on the concept. And what you get as an actor is what you play 'The concept is not my job,' Michelle states.
Playing Love's Labour's
We talk about both her roles in the plays Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Wonand whether there is any connection between the characters, Does Beatrice grow out of Rosaline? She sees them as distinct. Any parallels drawn are those made by the audience.
Does she feel in a different world to the last time she played in Love's Labour's Lost at the Globe? Then she played the Princess of France. Readily she admits how very different the play felt then in performance.
There she says the concept is the Globe and you play to a huge audience encouraged to eat, drink, talk, many standing for three hours. You are aware of the river and the sky and you play the muscularity of Shakespeare's language to the full to reach your audience. That version of Love's Labour's Lost was Elizabethan and more sexually charged whereas Chris Luscombe made cuts that reflect the more restrained Edwardian society with its linguistic taboos.
In playing Beatrice she finds the hospital context of the opening scene useful in projecting her character: after her rejection by Benedick she has forged a life for herself bent on self-preservation and we see her full of bustle and authority.
'Keeping herself busy,' Michelle says as Beatrice struggles with conflicting emotions about seeing him again.
Once the soldiers are home the focus is on love. And with the domesticity, the sense of rooms in a house, the acting style changes.
She has learnt a lot technically from playing in different theatre spaces. The contrast was particularly stark when she was playing Helena in All's Well that Ends Well in the evening at the National Theatre, while rehearsing during the day at the Globe. 'Elemental,' she calls the Globe while the Olivier Theatre at the National by comparison seemed 'a little room in a black box.'
The other important element in playing Shakespeare is the audience, a vital ingredient in keeping the performance fresh for the actors. You can take nothing for granted because the audience can react so differently. You play your role but you play the play, unfolding the story, so whether you might get a laugh on a line depends on your audience, not necessarily your technique.
How a group of schoolchildren react to that kiss of Beatrice and Benedick is an unknown. They may be boisterously enthusiastic! Children are not reverential. Michelle says that she plays for the eight-year-old who might be experiencing Shakespeare for the first time. She remembers how awesome she herself found David Troughton as Richard III.
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.