Carol Royle is currently starring as Elspeth Howe in Dead Sheep at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, until Saturday 1 October 2016 and then continuing on a UK tour.
I chatted to Carol and found out all about the show, her character and what it’s like to play opposite a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Carol, first of all tell me about your character, Elspeth and what you thought of the script when you first saw it.
The Director, Ian Talbot, asked me to do this, earlier on in the year and I wanted to work with Ian again, we’d done Midsummer Night’s Dream together at Regent’s Park when he was running the Park and he was also playing Bottom. That was back in 1986 and when he asked me to return to the Park again, for one reason or another I wasn’t able to so when Ian came to me and asked to do this I probably would have done it without reading the script, to be quite frank. Of course, one needed to see the script and to know the character. When I read it and saw that Elspeth was what one might call a character part I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled. Elspeth Howe is not essentially like me and these are the kind of roles that these days, I am very attracted to, I’ve always been attracted to them actually, but you’re not always given the opportunity to change your appearance or your personality. When you’re younger, for example you’re cast in the way that people perceive you to be. To play a character like Elspeth which is a real life character, I’m finding very interesting to do.
I did a lot of research on Elspeth, there’s a lot of photographs of her but there are no clips to give any indication of what she sounds like. I was lucky enough to speak to someone who knows her, a relative of her’s and he was able to tell me about how lovely she was and how down to earth she was, which gave me a little clue of what she was like, you didn’t have to make her into Boadicea. Obviously there is a certain perception of her because she was a strong woman, but she was a strong woman because of what she’d come up against and not necessarily because that was what she was like, nobody is completely one dimensional. Speaking to her relative gave me a few dimensions to base my character on.
With regards to the way she spoke, I knew that she came from a fairly aristocratic background, although I am a Yorkshire woman and a scot by blood, I was brought up with an RP accent, so that’s not difficult. I also know that she is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles, so I thought that in this case, rightly or wrongly, I’m going to give her a little bit more of an RP, a tiny little bit more RP than I am, to give that flavour of her being of that ilk.
Were you familiar with the political events of that decade?
It was there going on while I was in my thirties, although I was very preoccupied with my new child and work. Although I’ve always been politically minded, I didn’t watch News 24 all the time, so although I was aware of all that stuff I hadn’t studied it so it’s been quite good for me to go back and get into the fabric of what was going on.
It’s quite a current topic, considering that this was decades ago, isn’t it?
It’s quite extraordinary as the content of the play is the opposite to what’s happening now. We had a woman coming out of power and we were going into what was then known as the Common Market. Now we’ve got a woman who’s gone into power and we’re going to come out of what is now known as the EU. So it’s quite bizarre that it’s a parallel universe with this play.
What did you think when you knew that Steve Nallon was playing the role of Margaret Thatcher, were you familiar with his impersonation of her?
I had a lunch with Johnny Maitland, the writer, soon after Ian Talbot has asked me to play the part and he had told me about the decision to cast Steve. Funnily enough I used to watch Spitting Image a lot because I went to drama school with a guy called Enn Reitel, Enn used to be on Spitting Image and was a marvellous mimic and impersonator. He was and still remains a very good friend of mine, he spends most of his time in America now. When I met Steve, we had Enn in common.
Do you, like the audience, find it quite spooky how accurate Steve is when he plays the part and you’re playing opposite him?
I think that because it’s so good, you find that you’re not thinking about it, although the spooky bits occur when he/she is playing the venomous side of Margaret. I don’t think about the fact that it’s a man playing a woman at all, anymore.
What do you think the audience will take away from this piece?
It seems to be getting really good reactions, partly because the people that are coming to see it are interested in it and are therefore aware of the subject and because of their awareness they are getting the most out of it. Then we’ve had people coming to see it who weren’t even born during the period who I met after the show the other night and they really enjoyed it too which was good to hear. It was good to hear that people could enjoy it without necessarily knowing about the politics at the time. What our audiences will take away with them I hope is an evening that has been amusing and perhaps at moments slightly tear jerking. There’s also the knowledge of what it was like to be a human being like Geoffrey, he was clever and had everything that it took to be a high ranking politician without the dazzling element.
Finally, what would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket to see the play?
If you’re interested in the period or even if you’re not and you want to know more about it and you want to have an evening which encompasses laughter and tears, it’s an evening of tragicomedy.
I’d like to thank Carol for her time and wish her all the best with the rest of the tour!