Home » Interviews » Q&A with Lucy Phelps: As You Like It and Measure for Measure

Q&A with Lucy Phelps: As You Like It and Measure for Measure

Lucy Phelps and David Ajao as Rosalind and Orlando Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC
Lucy Phelps and David Ajao as Rosalind and Orlando – Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure transfer to The Barbican from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

AS YOU LIKE IT: Following her roles in Dido, Queen of Carthage, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in 2017, Lucy Phelps plays Rosalind in Kimberley Sykes’ production of As You Like It which opens the season. She is joined by David Ajao as Orlando, whose previous productions for the RSC include The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Hecuba. There will be a Chilled Performance of As You Like It on Thursday 5 December, the first of its kind at the Barbican.

RSC Director of Design, Stephen Brimson Lewis designs the set for As You Like It with Bretta Gerecke designing both costumes and lighting in a first for the RSC. Music is composed by Tim Sutton, with sound by Jonathan Ruddick and movement by Ayse Tashkiran. Fights by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown. Puppetry Director and Co-Designer by Mervyn Millar.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: Having last been at the RSC in 2017 to direct Snow in Midsummer in the Swan Theatre, Justin Audibert returns to direct a staging of The Taming of the Shrew, set in a world in which women hold the power. In a cast where women play roles written as men, and men play roles written as women, Claire Price plays Petruchia and Joseph Arkley plays Katherine.

The set for The Taming of the Shrew is designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis with costume design by Hannah Clark and lighting by Matt Peel. Music is composed by Ruth Chan, sound by Claire Windsor, and movement by Lucy Cullingford. Fights are by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Directed by RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran. Sandy Grierson, who played the roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles in Maria Aberg’s 2016 production of Dr Faustus, plays Angelo, and following his performance as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Antony Byrne returns to play The Duke. They are joined by Lucy Phelps in the role of Isabella.

The set and costumes for Measure for Measure are designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, with lighting by Simon Spencer. Music is composed by Paul Englishby. Sound is by Steven Atkinson, movement by Lucy Cullingford and fights are by Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

Antony Byrne and Lucy Phelps - Duke and Isabella Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC
Antony Byrne and Lucy Phelps – Duke and Isabella – Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Read our Q&A with Lucy Phelps

Q: You play Rosalind in Kimberley Sykes’ As You Like It and Isabella in Gregory Doran’s Measure for Measure in the RSC’s Barbican season. What are you looking forward to most with this production of As You Like It?
Lucy: I’m really excited to put our As You Like It in front of a London audience. The production is heavily dependent on ‘play’ with the audience – some nights that’s tougher than others – but that’s the challenge each evening! And so every show is quite different which (I hope) makes the piece feel very fresh, live and immediate – we never sit too comfortably and the production is ever evolving, not stagnant and repeated.

Q: Can you tell us about Rosalind? And are there particular character aspects of Rosalind that you have focused on?
Lucy: Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant creations – she’s fiercely intelligent, funny, quick, deeply loving, a philosopher and she has a complex emotional life. She’s very flawed too. Over the course of the play she goes on a journey of growth, her own voyage of self discovery – she’s exploring who she can be, who she wants to be and how to love in the world. She’s utterly human.

I dedicated a huge amount of time to working on the language as that’s where you’ll find the character. I then also spent a lot of time working with Ayse Tashkiran on movement and physicality. I wanted to see what it would be like to explore the limits of my physicality once Rosalind arrives in the forest – how high can I jump, how fast can I run, how much space can I take up. Rosalind’s full potential is unleashed in the forest – she can explore the limits of her brain, her sexuality, and transgress boundaries without fear. Arden is this liminal space in which you can be whoever you want to be, free from all societal constraints – I wanted to be physically undefinable.

In my opinion, Rosalind becomes a rock star in the forest – she’s firing on all cylinders! She has to own the stage and since I’m a huge fan of pop music I went there for inspiration – I watched lots of videos of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox, Prince, Christine & the Queens and Lady Gaga all individuals who have blurred the lines of gender and who also know how to command a space.

Q: What are you looking forward to most with this production of Measure for Measure?
Lucy: I think our production is going to look beautiful in the Barbican. We’ve set the play in pre Great War Vienna and I think the ‘period-esque’ decor of the main house will help make the audience feel as if they’ve really been transported back in time! But principally, I’m excited to hear the big ideas and the big debates the play is bursting with, being thrown out there into that space each night.

Q: Can you tell us about Isabella?
Lucy: Isabella is a woman who has chosen to become a nun in a world where opportunities for women are extremely limited. She is fiercely intelligent, devoted to her vocation but she also loves her brother. And therein lies the conflict…

Q: These two productions play in rep – how do you ‘plan’ this?
Lucy: I think you’d have to ask the brilliant directors, producers and stage management teams how the madness is planned! But in brief, first we rehearse two of the three shows in tandem for 12 weeks in London. We then set the first two shows up in Stratford and once they are up and running, we then start rehearsing the third show up in the rehearsal rooms in Stratford whilst performing the other two in the evenings. That final show then opens 7-8 weeks later and all three shows are then played in rep together. It’s a busy, brilliant and varied schedule which keeps you on your toes!

Q: How would you compare and contrast Rosalind and Isabella?
Lucy: They are equally brilliant, hugely intelligent, quick, determined, strong women. One has a world of possibility and opportunity opened up to her and thrives – by the end of the play she has truly found her voice, and is in command of her destiny – she even has an epilogue to show for it. The other has everything she holds dear stripped away from her, her autonomy, her voice. She is erased from the play.

Q: Why should everyone get along to the RSC’s London season at the Barbican?
Lucy: It’s a bold season with strong female voices at the heart of it.

As You Like It and Measure for Measure play in rep as part of the RSC’s London season at the Barbican. As You Like It is on until 18 January 2020 and Measure for Measure is on until 16 January 2020.


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