Actress Rebecca Charles has been part of the cast for the UK premiere production of Florian Zeller’s The Father, now on a new tour, since it began, and she’s still getting something different out of it with every performance. I caught up with Rebecca to ask her about this extraordinary play and to chat about her career to date.
You’ve been in the production of The Father right from the beginning. How does it feel to have been a part of the journey and what was your opinion of the piece when you first read the script?
I feel enormously privileged to have been with The Father since the very beginning. We’ve gone from a tiny studio theatre in Bath, grown into the Tricycle Theatre in London, two West End theatres and now a tour of some of the most fantastic theatres in the country. When I first read the script, I thought that it was one of the best new plays I had ever read. At the end of reading it, I felt completely overwhelmed and knew that I wanted to be a part of it so much. The play gives the audience a sense of what it must be like to be in the head of someone who is suffering from dementia, with all the fear and confusion that that brings. I think that Florian Zeller has written an incredible script, and my opinion of it has not changed since the first time that I read it. If anything, I love it more than ever.
Your role is rather pivotal in that you are the carer the end of life. Is this an easy role to throw yourself into? Did you have an idea of how you saw the character when you began rehearsals?
I don’t think it’s hard to want to care for someone who is distressed and needs help. It’s a natural instinct. It was hard, during rehearsals, not to be overcome with sorrow for Andre. Kenneth Cranham is heartbreaking at the end of the play but it is important for me to remember that, as his nurse, I would be very used to scenarios like this. I have to keep a professional discipline whilst at the same time showing compassion.
When we began rehearsals there were so many confusions surrounding what was real and not real and who my character actually was. I am just called Woman after all! We had a week of sitting around a table trying to puzzle it all out. It was apparent to me that the purpose of my character was to highlight for the audience Andre’s sense of confusion as a sufferer of dementia.
As you have played the role for a while, now, do you feel that you have changed the way you play her?
Having been a part of this production on four different occasions I feel that each time I come to it I see it afresh and hear it differently. We have had different actors along the way as well and they each bring something new and unique to it. This all helps to inform and perhaps change how I play my part. The constant relationship for me has been with Ken Cranham. As our relationship has grown and relaxed so has our playing of the final scene. It is definitely more playful than it was at the start and I hope there is a good balance of familiarity yet professionalism with my nurse.
So, what inspired you to become an actress and what inspires you to stick at it?
My parents definitely inspired me. They both have an enormous love of the theatre and, when I was young, my father was working as a professional actor. There were always scripts in our house, plays to watch and actors visiting. It was a world I understood and so wished that I might have the opportunity to be a part of. Luckily, with my parents’ enormous courage and support, I was allowed to leave home in North Wales at the age of sixteen in order to pursue Theatre Studies in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Having constant access to the RSC was an incredible inspiration and it was the confidence that I gained through living independently there and studying under another hugely influential person for me – Gordon Vallins, that I plucked up the courage to try to get into Drama School when I was eighteen and luckily I succeeded.
Being in productions such as The Father is what inspires me to stick at it. To be a part of something that is recognized as being a truly special piece of theatre is completely fulfilling. I feel so, so lucky to be a part of it and that inspires me to want to go on and continue to work on fantastic scripts with other wonderful actors and directors. My eldest daughter is about to go to drama school as well and seeing her passion for it is something else that inspires me. It is a great privilege and hugely inspiring to be part of a profession that inhabits work like The Father.
Are there any roles that you have an ambition to play? Equally, any theatres that you would love to perform in?
I am not ambitious for any particular roles. I always hoped that I might have a chance at Juliet but sadly those days have passed me by now! I would like to do more Classical work as that’s where my love of theatre started and I would really love to be a part of some of these period dramas on the television. My daughters and I are generally glued to them when they are on – War and Peace, Lark Rise to Candleford, Dickensian – I love them all!
Having spent two years living in Stratford-Upon-Avon I always felt that my goal was to play there with the RSC. I would absolutely love to work at The National Theatre. The Manchester Royal Exchange was another theatre that I had always hoped to work at and, fortunately, I did manage that a few years ago. That’s an amazing space to work in.
Are there any performers who inspired you to become an actress or who you look up to, now?
When I was younger I was obsessed with Dustin Hoffman in films like The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy and Kramer versus Kramer. Living in Stratford, I was massively inspired by some of the actors who were working there at the time. I saw Anthony Sher playing Richard III at least ten times; Zoe Wanamaker playing Viola; Amanda Root playing Juliet, Roger Allam playing Oberon – the list could go on and on! Also, Robert Lindsay’s Hamlet at The Royal Exchange in Manchester and the entire company of The Mysteries at the Cottesloe which was a truly inspirational piece of theatre.
Now, I find Helen McCrory incredible in everything she does. I really admire her strength, her emotional depth and her extraordinary presence. Of course, Ken Cranham will forever be someone that I look up to. His courage, generosity, humour, love and sheer brilliance at what he does will be qualities that I will never forget and will forever be grateful to have experienced at close hand.
What do you feel the highlight of your career has been, so far?
The Father, without a doubt, for all the reasons I have previously mentioned. Also, playing opposite Robert Lindsay when he played Cyrano de Bergerac and I played Roxanne at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in the production where I met my husband, Bob Barrett. That was one of the happiest and most fulfilling episodes in my career. But then also working with Bob in The Wrestling School for Howard Barker and Kenny Ireland. That was also an absolutely thrilling time.
What’s next for you once The Father finishes its tour?
I will be so sad when our tour finishes this week. At the moment, my plan is to be at home for my daughters for a bit. They have both been working extremely hard recently – one with auditioning for drama schools and the other with her GCSEs and I want to be around for them. However, the thrill of being in The Father has ignited my appetite for doing more theatre and, of course, I will always hanker after being a part of those period dramas!
I’d like to thank Rebecca for her time and sending best wishes for the final week of the tour of The Father, which is an incredible piece of theatre.