Broadway World interviews The Slaves of Solitude's Fenella Woolgar
Posted on 27 October 2017.
Posted in: Announcements
Actress Fenella Woolgar's work ranges from Handbagged and Circle Mirror Transformation to Home Fires and Doctor Who. She's currently starring in the stage adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude, about a boarding house in 1943 Henley-on-Thames, where Miss Roach - who endures daily torment from a fellow occupant - becomes involved with an American serviceman. The play is now in previews at Hampstead Theatre.
What sparked your love of theatre?
I actually grew up in the States, and just before we came back to England, we did a tour - it was around my sixth birthday. We came across this theatre in the middle of nowhere; apparently Wilde had spoken there. It was completely deserted, and I found my way onto the stage. It was one of those instant 'fall in love' moments.
Then in England, I was horribly teased for my accent, so I began imitating people around me - all those new sounds! So I suppose I was already acting in a way. And in my teens, I went to see some amazing theatre with school - some Greek plays, and Othello. I remember I had an enormous crush on the guy who played Roderigo.
When did acting become a serious ambition?
I always wanted to do it - I'd worked out early on it was a good way of entertaining people. I was keen to apply to drama school at 17, but my parents didn't want me to, so I got the prospectuses in secret. I went to university first, and did some directing and acting there, then I applied for RADA, got in, and had to break the news to my family. So it was a longer road, but I just loved it once I got there.
Was it a lot of pressure portraying Agatha Christie on Doctor Who?
I didn't have long to prepare for that - only a couple of weeks. We had a read through in Cardiff around this big table, with loads of people, and as they were going around introducing everyone, they got to Agatha's grandson! I thought "You're kidding me" - that was definitely a stressful moment.
But I loved playing her. She had this great mind, and wit as well. Doctor Who fans are very loyal, very strong in their opinions. I had one person stop me at the stage door and say "A lot of people criticised the episode, but I loved it!".
And then you played another iconic woman in Handbagged
That was such an opportunity, taking on Margaret Thatcher. And working with Indhu Rubasingham, and Moira Buffini, who I've just done Harlots for - such a lovely bunch of people.
Thatcher was so different to me that it was wonderfully liberating - I didn't have any nerves. You put on her armour and go out there. I did loads of research. The imitation is quite easy, because her voice was fake anyway, but I wanted to get to the core of her. There's no point going on stage thinking "This woman's dreadful" - you have to play who she thinks she is.
And now it's a different kind of pressure again with The Slaves of Solitude - a fairly intimidating number of people keep telling me it's their favourite book!
How are you finding poor Miss Roach?
I love Miss Roach - yes, poor Miss Roach. It's a brilliant part. I was worried initially because she's an introverted woman who has difficulty in fighting back and being honest about how she feels, constantly reprimanding herself. I could see that on film easily - a close-up would glimpse her soul. The challenge is making it work on stage.
That translation from rehearsal room to stage has been a big learning curve for me - how to pitch it just right. She's 'done to' so much, rather than driving the action, so that's an interesting journey. But I've had great support from this just fabulous cast, and Jonathan Kent is so experienced. He knows the process actors go through, and he's very thoughtful and caring.
How close is Nicholas Wright's adaptation?
Purists may have some issues, a few plot points have been changed - but that's necessary, or it would be a monologue. He's made some elements more active, and more suitable to a great play. There's lots of clever weaving things in. I'm rereading Patrick Hamilton's book at the moment, and I'm even more floored by how he's managed it. But the core of those characters and the plot, that's all there.