Hattie Morahan interview: 'Orpheus Descending asks such crucial, vital questions'
Following Theatr Clwyd’s Home, I’m Darling at the Duke of York’s Theatre, the theatre is once again represented in London theatre with Orpheus Descending at the Menier Chocolate Factory. A lesser-known Tennesee Williams play, Tamara Harvey directs a cast including Seth Numrich and Jemima Rooper.
Alongside Numrich and Rooper, Hattie Morahan plays Lady Torrance in the production. Morahan makes her Menier debut in the production, previously starring in A Doll’s House at the Duke of York’s Theatre and a production of The Changeling at Shakespeare’s Globe.
In rehearsals for the production, we spoke to Morahan who told us what it’s like to work with Tamara Harvey and the power of reviving American classics in 2019.
This production opened in North Wales at Theatr Clwyd before it came to London. How are you finding the surroundings there?
We were physically up on a hill and there’s sheep in fields, it felt a bit like breathing space to really focus on the work and have this warm, receptive place to work. It was lovely, especially driving to work through the countryside! On a personal level, London life is family life and all the things you’re otherwise dealing with like bills and domestic chaos, whereas up here, you can park that and be in quite a zen place. I was very grateful for the little bubble we were in.
Your director Tamara Harvey has been quite vocal on Twitter about being a #WorkingMum in theatre. Are there things she brings to the process that makes being an acting mum any easier?
Historically, working in this industry is challenging because the hours are so peculiar when it comes to childcare. The movement seems to be developing, which I know Tamara is championing and PiPA (Parents and Carers in Performing Arts) are spearheading tactical things that can make a real difference. Things like drawing up a schedule at the beginning of rehearsals so you know what you’re doing every day for the next four weeks, that enables you to plan and be calm and avoid that last-minute panic.
Orpheus Descending is just one of a handful of American classics being revived in London right now. All My Sons is at the Old Vic, just down the Cut you have Death of a Salesman at the Young Vic, and a little further we’ll have Orpheus Descending at the Menier. Why do you think these plays are so timely?
I guess the plays are so rich and beautifully constructed and have such complexity that I have a feeling that we’ll always be returning to them. They ask such crucial, vital questions about what it means to be true to yourself, how to be happy in the world, and how communities relate to one another, so it feels that they’ll always feel relevant. This is actually a play that Tamara has wanted to do for 20 years.
What can we expect from Tamara’s production, then?
From a design perspective, Jonathan Fensom and Tamara have been working on something that frees itself from the minutia of naturalism, which he gestures towards in the writing. He makes it clear in the stage direction that it needs to be abstract. It’s set in a shop so you could go the whole hog with what they’re selling in the shop, but there’s a sparseness and an austerity to allow the imaginative world to fill it. Tamara has specifically chosen to try and explore the meta-theatricality of some of what he’s gesturing towards in the writing.
Who is your character in the play?
The character I play is a second-generation Italian immigrant. On the one hand, she’s accepted and embraced by the community because she’s white, she looks and sounds like them. On the other hand, she’s never quite allowed to forget the fact that her father was a foreigner. They’re very quick to label her. She’s simultaneously feeling on the inside and the outside. Never in my recent memory have we had a country scrutinising itself with tension and even violence erupting out of who gets to say who belongs, who is or isn’t part of our country. The impression I get from the play is that he particularly identifies with someone who was an outsider, and that’s why he is able to write these extraordinary characters who are unable to find their place in the world.
Have you ever performed at the Menier before? Are you looking forward to taking the piece there?
I’ve not. I’ve seen things there and loved it, so I’m excited to play in a venue so intimate. Especially in this play where there is so much pent-up emotion and there’s quite a lot of emotional fireworks at the end, it is going to be fascinating to gauge that in that magical space. I’m in awe of the programming there – David [Babani, artistic director] and Tom [Siracusa, general manager] seem to have the Midas touch of getting the most remarkable work to come out of this tiny, tiny space.