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Interview with actress Olivia Poulet

25 April 2015 | Sinéad Hurley

London Calling caught up with Olivia Poulet to chat about her new role in Product, a satirical monologue by Mark Ravenhill taking place this April/May at the Arcola Theatre and discussed what it is like to take a big leap out of your comfort zone...

London Calling: What captured you/ sparked your interest about this monologue in particular?

Olivia Poulet: Well I have always like Mark Ravenhill’s writing and I am excited and also slightly terrified at the prospect of doing a one-woman show because it is so out of my normal comfort zone and I haven’t done anything like it before. I also thought that if I was going to do one that I’d like to do one where I feel I can rely on the writing because I know that’s sort of a clichéd thing to say, but his writing is so strong that it does kind of help if you have a great script to work from.

LC: I was just going to say, was it something that really took you out of your comfort zone - how have you found the experience so far?

OP: I work better with people on the whole, I am quite a sociable creature and I gain a lot from working in groups as well… so to all of a sudden be on your own on a stage for fifty minutes, it just felt like such a bizarre thing to do. But once I got in to it and found my feet with it – it was actually really exhilarating and quite an amazing experience.

LC: As it’s so different to anything that you have done before, how have you approached preparing for it?

OP: I was doing a big tour, just before I did Edinburgh, of nine Noel Coward plays, with the director Blanche McIntyre. It’s a collection called Tonight at 8.30, and she decided she wanted to do all nine with a company of 10 of us and on the Saturday of the tour we would do all nine shows over the course of one day, so people could come and see the whole collection. I think my brain was already a bit addled, because with that I had to learn my lines for the monologue, so I went a bit loopy! I spent a lot of time just drilling lines in between shows. It was the learning of it really, 40-50 pages of just yourself is quite peculiar but as I say it’s very well written, it sounds a bit naff but it’s quite a pleasure to learn really because Mark writes so beautifully and fluidly.

LC: So have you have you had the chance to get in to the Arcola to rehearse yet?

OP: No but we start rehearsals this week and I have been practising so it will only be a matter of polishing it off and adapting it to suit the new space because the Arcola is a thrust venue.

LC: How do you think the audience will react to the monologue?

OP: That’s a really good question… how long is a piece of string! In Edinburgh it went down very, very well. I mean, yes, there were some shows where you could feel that it just wasn’t their cup of tea or they felt, not offended by the material, but a bit shocked and you could feel them getting kind of angry with me! Because I think by doing a play about something they don’t agree with it must be that you agree with it.  It’s like the actress who plays Mrs Mangel in Neighbours gets hate mail because they despise Mrs Mangel. It’s pitching a diabolical movie to a starlet about a girl who falls in love with a suicide bomber so it is quite close to the bone, you know the whole section about the twin towers is topical and dangerous but as long as you’re fully aware of the nature of the satire, I think that people will enjoy it actually.

LC: I suppose that to have the audience respond so emotionally to the monologue is testimony to your ability to deliver the script…

OP: I think so, to be honest I have never really done a show where people leave and go ‘Oh, that was nice’. I’m just not interested in that really. I mean I’m very happy if they leave feel absolutely delighted by it, but if they leave feeling pretty battered or if they loathe it I’m quite fine with that. I just don’t really like doing beige plays. 

LC: So, you always want to take on roles that provoke a strong response either way?

OP: Yes, I mean amongst my friends there are some who have come to me and said they adored it and then other friends couldn’t palate it and quite get their head around it. So that’s good writing really isn’t it…and good theatre!

LC: What have you taken away from your experience of the monologue?

OP: I think it has given me the confidence that I am capable of standing on my own in front of an audience for 50 minutes which is utterly terrifying on day one of doing it. I think it’s quite an amazing thing to have that feeling of confidence, that potentially nothing will ever be that scary again, like jumping out of a plane! I think you have to do things in life that scare you and challenge you. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t. I think, I hope, fingers crossed, this one has paid off!

LC: Out of the wide range of work you have done – theatre, TV, radio – what do you enjoy the most?

OP: It’s quite a difficult one actually, because it’s kind of like saying what’s better, an orange or a pencil? It’s nice actually, because they are all different. TV is long hours, infinitely better pay and can be very rewarding, but it can also be incredibly dull. Theatre can be gruelling and rough and crap money but the most satisfying thing in the world. I’m lucky enough at the moment to be doing a bit of all of them, which is perfect.

LC: On that note, what does 2015 hold for you?

OP: Well, this finishes at the end of May and then I have a nice part in Fresh Meat, which I am quite looking forward to.  Then, I have a feature film that Lucy Brown and I have been commissioned by BFI to write which is quite exciting called Bride & Groom and a film called Rowgirls, that has been in development for a while and seems to be moving forward now, which is very exciting!

Product is showing at the Arcola Theatre from 27 April to the 23 May. For more information and to book tickets please click here

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