Tara's an actress for all seasons
IT had been some time since Tara Fitzgerald got out on the road with a touring theatre production. But that’s something she’s now rectifying with a Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Winter’s Tale – and the successful film and television actor is embracing life on the road.
“I hadn’t toured for a long time actually, quite a few years,” she says from York, where the company is spending the week before decamping for Nottingham. “I thought it would be fun.
“It’s an interesting thing to do. You’re not in any one place for very long. It’s this whistle-stop mentality.”
Tara hasn’t made any special demands or played the ‘do-you-know-who-I-am?’ card – she’s in actors’ digs that she describes as an “ad-hoc student house” with several of her fellow cast-members.
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“That is part of the attraction,” she says.
It also helps if the work is good. One nice thing about working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, there’s a clue in the company title as to why script quality might not be a concern.
The Winter’s Tale is not one of Shakespeare’s most popular or widely staged works. A later play, it is set in two time periods and was among the comedies in the First Folio.
Before agreeing to the role of Hermione, wife of jealous Leontes the King of Sicily, Tara had no previous experience with The Winter’s Tale. This, she reckons, was to her advantage.
“It’s a funny thing being an actor in terms of Shakespeare because there’s so many great performances that go before you – (there’s a) mythology around them.
“But in fact I’d never seen this play. I’d read it at school – the trial scene for Hermione is one of those set pieces that everybody does when they go to drama school.”
Co-star Jo Stone-Fewings, who plays Leontes, hadn’t seen it either.
“It was quite a good marriage in that way,” Tara says.
Dipping into Shakespeare has not been a decision Tara’s regretted.
“For me it’s been very enjoyable – and frightening, because of this reverence that goes with the territory.
“It can be a bit bamboozling because it’s quite complex. But there is this enormous clarity. Once you get it, once you grasp hold of those ideas, there is an enormous clarity to them.”
For Tara, this is obviously the work of a playwright who has gone on a journey. Shakespeare is revisiting themes from earlier works and bringing to them an earned wisdom.
“It is a later play and it feels like that to me,” she says.
“I’m in my mid-40s, and it feels to me like it speaks to me at this age very clearly.”
She credits director Lucy Bailey with allowing the play to be viewed as a living, breathing thing – almost like a new work, and definitely not a museum piece.
“It’s meant that the world has evolved through us – through whatever is happening in the rehearsal process,” Tara says.
“She gives you that opportunity. She helps you harness it in your own way, at least that’s how it’s been for me. And she makes it feel very modern and not inaccessible.”
That’s important because reverence can kill a production, even if the recipient of the reverence is the English language’s greatest playwright. Sometimes, Tara says, it can feel like Shakespeare’s a god, beyond the reach of mortals.
Lucy, she says, brings an irreverence – not to Shakespeare, but to that idea of Shakespeare. That’s important.
Lucy injects an almost childlike curiosity and energy into the piece.
“It’s very joyful,” Tara says. “It’s very celebratory, this production. To me it’s a lot to do with Englishness, and love – it’s also got very strong women in it, which is exciting. There doesn’t seem to me to be another play with three strong women.”
As a brief visitor to the RSC, Tara has been impressed.
“The resources they have available to them are wonderful, but my impression is that they are very aware of spending people’s money well, properly and treading that line between innovation and defence of a tradition,” Tara says. “They are brave.”
The actress has had success in live theatre and on the big and small screens, but she’s not someone who ticks boxes when it comes to which one she’d like to do next, or more often.
“I’m not particularly one of those people who’s thinking the grass is greener,” she says.
“I think the stuff I get from theatre that I can’t get any other way is discipline and mental approach – that mental challenge. But I was just thinking this is my biggest gap from filming in a while. I sort of feel like I should go and do a bit of filming.”
British television audiences will soon see one bit of filming she’s recently done – she has a role in the upcoming season of massive fantasy hit Game of Thrones alongside West Bridgford’s Joe Dempsie.
“I’m not much in Game of Thrones, and I don’t know what the outcome of the character is,” she says.
But she will happily do however much more they ask of her.
“I love the show,” she says. “I think it’s great. I was happy to do anything on that show, I love it so much. It’s very familiar, but it’s subverted genres.”
This is a great time to work in television.
“Things are blossoming,” she says. “Twenty years ago there was a real stigma around television, certainly in the US there was. But that’s been completely revolutionised. And the writer’s word is king.”
So don’t look for Tara to be away from the small screen for too long. But before all that, she’ll turn up at the Theatre Royal. It’s a completely different mindset to being on a film or television set.
“Part of the thing I really enjoy about the theatre is the company, which I’ve never experienced in the same way filming,” she says. “I don’t know how it can be the same. This sort of common pursuit is very enjoyable. It also helps if you’ve got a good company and get on. I suppose it could be seven kinds of hell if you didn’t. But we do.”
The Winter’s Tale is at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday until Saturday. Showtime is 7:30pm with a 2pm Wednesday matinee and a 2:30pm Saturday matinee.
Tickets cost £12 to £29.50 and can be bought via trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555 or in person at the Theatre Royal box office.