Kathryn O’Reilly has just finished starring in Arms and The Man at Watford Palace Theatre. Here’s what she had to say about the play.
Tell me about Arms and The Man and your character Catherine?
Arms and the Man was written by George Bernard Shaw, and was first performed at the Avenue Theatre in the West End in 1894. It received mixed reviews from the press, however extra matinees were given due to popular demand by audiences. Shaw was previously a music critic and Eric Bently who has written a biography on Shaw quotes him saying “I learned from Mozart how to treat deep themes with a light touch”. There is certainly something big and grand and operatic about this play and what’s required in the performing of it. The main themes are war, love and marriage, with sub themes one of which looks at class.
Shaw was a socialist, and as with Arms and the Man believed that we all have freedom of choice. “Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself”, said Shaw. Catherine Petkoff the character I play is certainly someone who is keen on creating herself, and like Louka and Nicola, servants in the Petkoff household who wish to rise, she wishes to improve herself. She seeks civilaised manners and wants to be seen as sophisticated. First described in the play as “imperiously energetic”, she very much wears the trousers in the household, status and position are very important to her.
The play opens with a backdrop of the Serbo Bulgarian war. Catherine finds war glorious, glamorous and exciting, topped by the fact that Serious, her daughter Raina’s beloved fiancée, whom they both idolize, is thought to be the hero of the hour, which excites Catherine beyond belief. Then, a professional soldier, Bluntschli, hired by the enemy finds his way into the bedroom of Raina, and she chooses to hide him, with the help of Catherine facilitates his safe escape, sending him off in a old coat of her husbands. However he doesn’t stay away from Raina for long. In the meantime Paul Petkoff, Catherine’s husband now returned from the war has heard a story about two women hiding an enemy solider, unbeknown to him that the two women are in fact his daughter and wife. Catherine and Raina soon find out that Sergius and Paul have met Bluntschil during the war, even though they were over-reached by him, they are at peace now and Paul invites Bluntschli to stay for lunch… You’ll have to come and see the play to find out how it all pans out!
What was your initial impression of the script?
I loved it straight way. I really enjoyed the energy of it, the language and the story.
Was it easy to translate from page to stage?
The director Brigid Lamour had us up on our feet on the second day, and the rehearsal room was marked up, with furniture and props available very early meant we were able to explore the physical space really quickly. The script has quite a lot of stage directions. Shaw said that they were really for the reader and expected the actors to bring their own ideas. But his stage directions have been really useful, and in some instances we have followed some of them, and found that other stage directions didn’t work for us. Shaw’s work requires a particular type of performance and demands quite a lot form the actors. Brigid immediately set us in a type of training, with daily company voice workouts, which have been incredibly useful and a lot of fun to do together. We also had a voice coach, Charmain Hoare come in and work with us, and movement director Jack Murphy, with whom we explored social formality, tensions and release, physical relationships between characters and individually. I think this process that Brigid employed certainly made it easier for us to translate from page to stage.
Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?
I was very excited by who Catherine Petkoff was on the page, how she expresses herself, her energy and use of langue. How Shaw described her and the taste that I got in my audition with Brigid Lamour as to how Catherine could be portrayed. With it being a comedy and the idea that it was like an opera I was keen to explore lightness, as well as her very direct and extravert quality, sensuality and excitement about war. I guess what I wanted to bring was a type of energy that would be exciting for the audience, presenting her extrovert nature with integrity and serve the play.
How does the Watford Palace Theatre lend itself to the piece?
Excellently. An Edwardian building, and at a time it was a music hall. Proscenium arch theatre with a fly tower and very comfortable sumptuous 600 seat auditorium. It is a beautiful, glorious theatre that suits the piece wonderfully.
What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?
It’s an entertaining piece of theatre, performed by a brilliant company of actors who love the play. Arms and the Man is a play that is not done vey often, so this is a great opportunity to see it on stage. George Orwell described Shaw’s play as “probably the wittiest play he ever wrote, the most flawless technically, and in spite of it being a very light comedy, the most telling”. It’s a very enjoyable comedy, a delightful play, beautifully directed by Brigid Lamour, with an excellent creative team, lighting design by Jenny Cane, design by Rebecca Brower, wardrobe supervisor Mark Jones, costume maker Sarah Ninot and sound design by Aaron Ghosh who have all come together and created a smart production.
With only eight performances left, catch us while you can we would love to see you there!
Thanks to Kathryn for a lovely and fascinating interview!