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Interview with actress Eve Ponsonby

17 April 2014 | Charlie Kenber

“I think that’s the last taboo really. No one thinks that incest is good.”

We spoke to Eve Ponsonby, playing the starring role, Annabella, in the current Cheek By Jowl reprisal of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Barbican Theatre until 26th April…

London Calling: You’ve just joined the production – do you think the show has changed much since the original?

Eve Ponsonby: Yeah I’m a newbie! I think it’s changed a lot. I was quite nervous about that but it’s been brilliant. There are quite a few new people this time and it’s been very creative and the people who’ve been in it from the start have said it’s changed a lot. There’s quite a new vibe going on – hopefully!

LC: What drew you to the project? Cheek By Jowl and the play are both well regarded…

EP: A mixture of both. It’s been a play that I’ve always loved. I’ve always thought it’s a much darker, sexier version of Romeo and Juliet. And then Cheek By Jowl are just a brilliant company, so to have the chance to do that play in their hands is really exciting.

LC: It was written about 400 years ago – how does this production update it to ensure it remains relevant today?

EP: It’s set now, all in Annabella’s bedroom. I think it’s really relevant: because it’s such an extreme story I think it for me really connects to a young girl’s pressure on what she’s meant to feel and what she does feel. The pressure of image and how you’re meant to look. It feels very relevant.

Also all the women in this play are completely violated but equally they’re not victims: they make bad choices. I think it’s a very strongly feminist in a really weird way. It feels quite powerful.

LC: Do you think the play has become less shocking and therefore lost some of its impact?

EP: The main thing in the story that the brother and sister love each other is incest, and I don’t think- I think that’s still as shocking now as it was then. I think that’s the last taboo really. No one thinks that incest is good.

LC: What about Annabella herself – what has it been like to explore that character?

EP: At the start of the play she’s a teenager, she’s lustful. I think she’s desperate for excitement and – you know I look at a lot of what I was like when I was that sort of age, 15 or whatever, and I remember feeling like I was much more grown up than I was. I think she becomes a woman and she realises the mistakes she’s made and that she’s been foolish and foolhardy, so it’s really about her growing up, and accepting the things she’s done wrong.

LC: How do you think the staging affects the story itself?

EP: I think it hasn’t changed the story. It’s all set in her bedroom and the main feature of the room is the bed. I think it has added this whole idea of it being Annabella’s fantasy, and it leaves the audience questioning if this is all a dream of hers. Also the way that dreams can turn into nightmares and sometimes Annabella seems to have control of what’s going on around her but other times she doesn’t.

I think from touring with it that seems to read quite well in every place, which is really exciting. We just got back from Taiwan and that’s such a different culture, but it was really well received and people seemed to really engage with that idea of this young girl’s fantasy.

LC: Do you think there’ll be a different reception in London?

EP: I think there will be, definitely. For example in Taiwan they were very shocked by the nudity, and being in bra and pants and all that, and I don’t know if that will be as shocking here, or here it might be the incest? It will be interesting, I have no idea!

LC: Do you think there’s a certain type of person the show appeals to?

EP: I think it definitely appeals to quite a youthful crowd. That sounds wrong because I think all ages can enjoy it, but it’s definitely very bold and exciting and in-your-face. What I find exciting is it’s a Jacobean tragedy, yet it’s two hours straight through and full of movement and brightness and darkness and blood. So it’s very exciting, which hopefully will draw a crowd that wants to push things rather than just sit back and watch people standing on a stage.

LC: How have you found touring the production?

EP: I love it! You get to go to places that you wouldn’t necessarily go to. It’s just really cool to be paid to go around the world. I didn’t take a gap year after school and I always hoped that work would help me travel. What’s hard is if you’re touring around the UK you’re often staying in digs, and it’s just tiring not having your own bed, and friends and stuff.

LC: You’ve done lots of TV work as well as theatre. Do you find it difficult moving between the two?

EP: I think it’s exciting moving between the two because it keeps you on your toes. From my experience the only thing I find hard to compare is at the moment I’ve had roles like Annabella in the theatre which are so exciting and engrossing, whereas in TV I’ve played much smaller parts, so I haven’t really had the chance to have a similar creative view. They’re such different art forms, but equally it’s just about acting for your audience, and in TV and film your audience is the camera.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore continues at the Barbican until 26th April, before embarking on a UK and International tour. Tickets from £21, available here.

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