11 Questions with... Tara Tijani

Whisper #182

We sit down with one of the rising stars of our 2024 summer season to find out about her past, present and future on the stage

Current roles: Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal and Mistress Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor. This is Tara’s debut RSC Season.

Favourite role: Medea in Medea

Would love to play: Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

Trained: Graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2021

Tara Tijani
1. What was your first professional acting job?

My professional stage debut was The Long Song at Chichester Festival Theatre when Daniel Evans was the Artistic Director. I got to work with the most amazing cast - I’m still friends with so many of them. That was in 2021 ­– so I was booked for it when I was still in drama school.

Weirdly enough, the recall for the audition was at the Jerwood Rehearsal Rooms in Waterloo, where we were rehearsing our third-year Guildhall show. I remember coming in for rehearsal warm-up at half nine, and my audition was directly downstairs at 10am. I did the audition and went straight back to my rehearsal room. I think I walked in barefoot!

2. What has your experience at the RSC been like?

It’s been great. I mean, it's also been mad - I don't think I could have predicted it. The first time I came to the RSC was on a school trip in 2017. I went to the BRIT School for two years, and part of the trip was to see a show and perform. I have really fond memories of that day. I've got a picture of me and all my friends sitting outside the theatre, where we saw Anthony and Cleopatra, and we also performed a version of Richard III in the RSC gardens. So, I guess this isn’t my RSC debut after all.

The RSC hadn't really been on my radar until I saw Paapa Essiedu perform in the RSC's Hamlet at The Hackney Empire. Hamlet was never one of my favourite plays. I knew what was happening, but I never understood why it was so famous. But then I saw his performance, and I was like: “I get it! It’s brilliant.” Then at drama school, obviously you hear about all these legendary directors and performers and you’re just hoping for the day you get to perform there too!

A man and woman sit on top of a large bright pink seat. The man wears a black shiny suit and the woman a large bright pink ballgown with large pink feathers in her hair. The man is leaning across to talk to her and the pair appear to be flirting.
Tara Tijani as Lady Teazle and Stefan Adegbola as Joseph Surface in The School for Scandal 2024
Photo by Marc Brenner © RSC Browse and license our images

3. What was your first experience of Shakespeare?

At secondary school in year 9 we studied Macbeth and I had this amazing teacher. She would speak the verse so fast it sounded like she was rapping – apparently she was an MC when she was younger. She said: “Shakespeare's brilliant, because it is rap - the way the verse and the poetry plays around the beat. Think of your favourite rappers - you can feel when they are on the beat or go off it. It’s the same for Shakespeare.”

Then at drama school one of my teachers was the amazing Patsy Rodenburg. The way she taught Shakespeare was surprisingly un-scholarly. She told us, when you pick a speech, obviously do the research first and know what you're saying. But after that, it's all about feeling. You don't need to come at it from a really scientific point of view - you can just say the lines, and you'll feel when you're tripping over the beat and then you’ll question: 'Oh, okay, there's something in that. What's here? There's a clue here.'

4. What is the best piece of advice so far that you've received?

To just enjoy it while you can. The hours can be really long, but at the end of the day, we're really privileged to be able to be able to make money from acting, so just enjoy it!

Also, have some hobbies outside of acting. That's one I'm still working on. When I graduated, I booked The Long Song, then another theatre job straight off the back of that and then afterwards I had quite a bit of a gap. I remember going, ‘What are my hobbies? How do I relax?’ Even watching a movie feels like you’re sort of working. So having something outside of acting is really important.

5. Can we talk about the two characters that you're playing? Firstly, tell us about the character of Anne Page.

There are a few different subplots in The Merry Wives but one of the biggest is about her. She’s at that pivotal time in her life where she's trying to decide what she wants to be; her mum wants her to do one thing and her dad wants to do another. So, she needs to decide whether she just does what everybody else wants, or does she take her own initiative?

I'm sure a lot of people will look at her and remember a time when they needed to make a big decision for themselves; whether it’s what school you go to, what job you do or who you date.

It has also been an interesting exercise as an actor to create a character from what other people say about her. When Anne Page comes on, there’s this huge build up because everyone’s been talking about her. But my job is to take what others say about her, and decide what is true and what is playable.

6. How does it feel to play character like this in a very female-led play?

I'm always surprised with Shakespeare just how many things resonate today. Our version is set in a modern era and it’s full of all these women making decisions for themselves and driving the plot forward. You don't necessarily associate that with something from the 1600s, but I think it makes it a lot easier to connect with a modern audience and with the characters as an actor.

A young man and woman are stood facing each other outside a house with a green door. The man is wearing glasses and is holding the woman's hands. They are both smiling at each other.
John Leader as Fenton and Tara Tijani as Mistress Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2024

7. Tell us a bit about Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal. Are there are any similarities between the two characters?

I think they're both lovers, and they both love the idea of romance. But no, I’d say they are quite different. Anne is about 17 or 18 - about the age a young person would be thinking about going to university. Lady Teazle is a bit older, maybe in her early 20s, and she's already married to an older man.

But she’s not victim. I think actually neither of them are victims - they're both choosing what they want. The difference is that you see Anne Page in the process of choosing, while Lady Teazle has already chosen; her story is about her living the life she's chosen for herself.

Tara Tijani as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal, 2024

8. What do you like about the character?

It’s all in her name really - she's a tease. She loves life, and she's with a man who genuinely loves her. But they do butt heads. This leads to so many funny scenes and quick, witty lines.

I remember reading the play for the audition and thinking: ‘This is so, so modern’. It made me think of all these beautiful young women on TikTok who have these incredibly wealthy husbands and are accused of being gold diggers. It made me consider transactional relationships in a different way; what people get out of it and considering the fact that it goes both ways.

In this play, they’re both getting something out of it. There’s a big age gap, yes, and they quarrel, and they’re feisty and funny and sassy. But they are also both getting genuine love and connection, which is glorious. I think it'd be boring if she was just in it for the money, or if he was just there because she's a hot young trophy wife. To me, it’s more interesting as it gives both characters more agency.

9. Can we talk about you playing these roles in rep – what does that mean?

So, ‘in rep’ means we're a repertoire company – the RSC hires all of us to be in two plays. Though some people are only in one play – for example, Sam Spiro is only in The Merry Wives, and then Geoffrey Streatfield is only in The School for Scandal.

We rehearsed in London for eight weeks, rehearsing both plays at the same time and alternating between directors. There was a massive system to it and it worked really smoothly, but it was hectic. Sometimes, you’d start in Scandal world in the morning, and then at 11am you’d switch over to Merry Wives. When we came to Stratford, we concentrated just on Merry Wives before opening, did the tech runs, previews and press night. Then after press, we came back to rehearse for The School for Scandal in the day, while playing Merry Wives in the evening.

It would sometimes take a second for my brain to switch over, but really, it doesn’t get confusing because the plays and the characters are so different. With Anne Page, she’s all poetry and beautiful phrases about love. And then Lady Teazle is all wit and humour and one-upmanship. Because she's a bit older and a bit more sophisticated, she uses language differently to Anne Page, who says exactly what she means, with no subtext. It’s very pure and beautiful.

Tara Tijani and Geoffrey Streatfeild stood next to each with their arms interlinked. Tara’s head is rested on Geoffrey’s shoulder.
Tara Tijani as Lady Teazle and Geoffrey Streatfield as Sir Peter Teazle in rehearsal for The School for Scandal 2024
Photo by Marc Brenner © RSC Browse and license our images

10. Tell us one thing you've learnt from your experience at the RSC

I think mostly I’ve learnt about sustaining my energy, especially when we started rehearsing Scandal during the day and performing Merry Wives in the evening. As soon as you think the day's over, you’ve got just enough time to cook, have a quick lie down and then get back out there. Sometimes that involves taking time alone to recharge, even when usually you’d love to meet up and have a giggle with the rest of the cast.

11. What are you excited about for the future?

I don't want to think about the future too much because I think as an actor you're always having to think about the next job. You might not even have started a play, and you’re already auditioning for the next thing, so you’re often forced to think about what's coming next. So, I’m enjoying being present, and I’m excited for the future and to see what comes next.