She-devil in La Mancha

Whisper #3

I wasn't going to blog before getting to Stratford but I want to hereby state that my life is brilliant. Mainly because I am playing lots of complicated, flawed, three dimensional women. 

I am currently rehearsing to play: (brackets show who I am using as inspiration):

  • A woman seeking public vindication (Hermione in A Winter's Tale with a touch of Erin Brockovich) 
  • A teenager who has fallen pregnant (Rizzo from Grease)
  • A village girl from La Mancha (Me) 
  • A demonic scholar from Wittenberg (Me)
  • Mephistophilis (Ruth Wilson in Luther
  • Lucifer (Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted and Cara Delevigne on any of her private jets)

As you can see I am experiencing a plethora of delights. A chocolate box of artistic fulfilment for a female actor. It feels very unusual. 

I know dozens of versatile, talented  actresses who are doing what I was doing a few months ago and will doubtless do again: auditioning once a fortnight (if you're one of the lucky ones) for one-line parts named 'sexy party girl' or 'receptionist' or 'semi-naked girl in bed'.

I have noticed that it doesn't matter how brilliant or anti-nudity your agent is, there are not enough good parts written for women in television and film. It does however, feel like the right sounds are being made, as the people making the decisions realise that people like watching women, ALL kinds of women, LOTS of different kinds of women, on screen. I recently shot a small part in a BBC series which had five complex lead female roles and was written, directed and exec produced by women.

When it comes to theatre we are all fighting for a small number of meaty roles. On getting an audition for one of these coveted roles I have, on more than one occasion spent time working out: 'She's on tour so she's not available and she's in the West End, so she's definitely not available!' Before walking into the waiting room to sit down opposite an actress from Downton. Needless to say who got it. 

I don't resent anyone from Downton getting the roles I go for. I plan to be in a version of Downton one day. And it probably won't make things any easier. I just wish there were more chances for talented actresses to play the parts that they deserve to play. I hope that by the time I am in my version of Downton, the actress who comes to sit down opposite me gets to play a meaty role in something, somewhere else instead. (Because I better f*cking get that part now I'm on the f*cking telly.)

This may be about to be made possible if the RSC and the Globe have anything to do with it. A fortnight ago the RSC announced they have cast a female Cymbeline in Gillian Bevan and lots of the male characters will be played by women. Emma Rice has committed to casting 50% of the actors as female in her new season at the Globe, no matter whether the part is usually played by men. Hurrah!

The part of Lucifer that I am playing in Maria Aberg's production of Doctor Faustus is a part usually played by a male actor. Satan is a male snake right? Wrong. In our production Satan is a blonde she-devil who knows how to dress. Without giving too much away about the production, what we have created in Lucifer is going to bring a new interpretation of the devil to audiences.

Faustus and Mephistophilis are being played by Oliver Ryan and Sandy Grierson, both men. Ruth Everett is understudying Faustus and I am understudying Mephistophilis. Both women. It will make for a really interesting understudy run. As far as Google tells me there has never been a female pairing on stage. And there's always the chance that I will have to go on to cover one of them at 15 minutes notice. I am loving it. In the day Ruth and I watch Ollie and Sandy making choices and exploring their characters. In the evening at understudy rehearsals we do the choosing and the exploring. Some of our choices are similar to the men, some very different, some related to gender, some not. What is clear is that there are lots of different ways of saying the lines and those different ways should be explored. It's a missed opportunity for actors and audiences if they are not. And female actors don't want to miss out on any more opportunities.

Zeus the puppy being carried by Eleanor in her handbag. Eleanor wears a bright orange scarf
Zeus in Eleanor's handbag
Eleanor Wyld © Artist Browse and license our images

Now to Zeus. He asks to go outside now! He is incredibly sweet. I don't see him enough. But when I do we go on adventures around London to visit friends I won't see for the next six months and he fits perfectly in my handbag. So I have become a female cliche. I carry my puppy in my bag. I'll be completely prepped for 'blonde with puppy in handbag' the next time that one comes up. Because please note, even 'blonde with puppy in handbag' is a complicated, flawed, three dimensional woman like me.

Eleanor Wyld

Eleanor Wyld

Eleanor Wyld is an actor who grew up in Hackney, London. She writes and has four part time jobs when she's resting. She is an associate at the Big House Theatre Company based in Dalston, a theatre charity helping to empower young people in care. Follow Eleanor on Twitter @EleanorWyld

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