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Interview with Orlando James – The Winter’s Tale

Orlando James
Orlando James – Photographer Phil Sharp

Orlando James can currently be seen playing the lead role, Leontes in Cheek By Jowl’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, directed by Declan Donnellan.

Having been on an international tour, they are due to perform at London’s renowned Barbican Theatre from 5th-22nd April 2017. It will stream live from the Barbican Centre on 19th April. Orlando recently starred as William Shakespeare in the West End smash hit – Shakespeare In Love. Other theatre work since graduating from the prestigious Drama Centre include Tis Pity She’s A Whore again with Cheek By Jowl, Another Country with Theatre Royal Bath and Chichester and The Duchess Of Malfi. TV work includes Dr Who and BBC’s Six Wives with Lucy Worsley.

Orlando recently took some time out to answer a few questions from us – a fascinating read:

Q: You recently starred as William Shakespeare in Shakespeare In Love in the West End. What did you enjoy most about being in the production?
Orlando: Shakespeare in Love such was a joyous experience, it was so fun to do. To feel the laughter and the enjoyment coming off the audience like waves; that was an experience I won’t forget. It was a privilege to pretend to be Shakespeare every night. I think the most enjoyable thing, and the overarching success of the production was to really pay homage to the history and the legacy of theatre. It is such a powerful art form, and this play – through humour, poetry, romance and wonder – explores just how inspiring theatre can be.

Q: You are currently playing the lead role, Leontes in Cheek By Jowl’s The Winter’s Tale which has been on an international tour. What can you tell us about the tour?
Orlando: This tour has been a rollercoaster. We opened in Paris back in January 2016, and since then we have travelled all over Europe, to America, and now we are touring the UK and arrive at the Barbican in April 2017. We are live streaming the performance on the 19th April at 7:30pm

Performing week by week in so many different and varying cultures keeps us on our toes. We get a really immersive experience of everywhere we go, the theatres are all so different, and offer such varying challenges.

Q: Can you tell us about Leontes and (for those that don’t know) how he fits into the storyline?
Orlando: Leontes is the King of Sicilia and at the outset of the play he is convinced his wife is having an affair with his best friend and King of Bohemia, Polixenes. His jealous reaction to this belief sets in action a series of tragic events which rip apart his marriage, his family, his kingdom. Quite a lot is up for interpretation. The general consensus is that he acts completely out of paranoia, so deciding why that is true is a fun challenge for any production. Through a series of acts of fate, the kindness of strangers, and the persistence of wonder; a sense of redemption, reconciliation, and hope is born.

Q: What do you enjoy most about performing in Shakespeare productions?
Orlando: Many people are scared of Shakespeare. They are scared it is above them. But I believe it is the opposite. In truth, Shakespeare speaks for everyone, to everyone. What I enjoy most is stripping away the preconceptions and telling these hugely compelling stories as they were, I think, intended; clear, exciting, straight to the heart, and human.

Q: What is special about this production of The Winter’s Tale?
Orlando: Our production is simple, bold, and hopefully full of wonder. We have worked hard to cut away any concept and just deliver the story. It is a very ensemble piece and we catapult through time, through country boarders, with fun, violence, music, tragedy. It is one of Shakespeare’s more complicated plays and this makes it such rich material. We have fun but we also don’t shy away from the raw emotional themes. You can expect to be rattled, and hopefully, you will leave feeling full. Full of feeling, full of thought.

Cheek By Jowl - The Winter's Tale. Orlando James (Leontes) Natalie Radmall-Quirke (Hermione and Dorcas) Photo Credit Johan Persson
Cheek By Jowl – The Winter’s Tale. Orlando James (Leontes) Natalie Radmall-Quirke (Hermione and Dorcas) Photo Credit Johan Persson

Q: Can you tell us a little about Cheek By Jowl?
Orlando: Cheek by Jowl is an innovative and vital company. It has been cutting-edge for over 30 years, which is no mean feat. This is down to the determination and resilience, not to mention artistic integrity, of its founders Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod. For me personally, they have been mentors, encouraging me to be the bravest actor I can be. To push the boundaries of what I can do, and what I can expect of myself. They offer a freedom and require a contribution from an actor that is unparalleled in today’s industry. Their work is unrelenting in its pursuit of truth, and of story, by fighting always to exist in the present and for the work to be alive.

Q: Why should everyone get along to see this production, either on stage or on screen?
Orlando: We are very proud of this production, it deals with big ideas. We have endeavoured to explore these themes with clarity and sensitivity. Ideas of abandonment, loss, denial, family, love, hope, faith. It is jammed packed, fast-paced, and cuts no corners. It will reward an audience with its message of hope, togethernessand humanity.

Q: What next for you in 2017?
Orlando: Having been touring this show for the best part of two years, my first priority is to be back in London. It’s important to recalibrate. Then I have plans to do some more screen work. A couple of projects pending, I shall have to wait and see. I will also be diving back into songwriting, and will be gigging in London throughout the summer.


Cheek by Jowl’s production of The Winter’s Tale will be showing at the Barbican, London from 5th Apr 2017 – 22 Apr 2017.

The Winter’s Tale will be streamed live from the Barbican Centre on 19 April at 7.30pm. You can watch here.


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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