The main thing about Rachel is that she's broken by circumstance. She's very devil-may-care and rebellious but there's something quite vulnerable about her. Some performances I'll start with a slightly more accessible Rachel, or I can be very surly and aggressive – and the play will unfold with that starting point. That keeps my attention completely riveted to the dialogue as if it was fresh for the first time. Anthony Banks, the director, has been very clever: he's cast actors who are actually quite malleable. We all bend and adapt to our spaces. We're not militant in keeping everything too set in stone, which would be very boring for me. I’m not that kind of actor, I like to keep things fresh. Particularly there’s an actor that plays the detective inspector, John Dougall; we've got a few scenes together and our scenes are such fun to do because he's playful and will react. He still listens and I still listen to him, so there’s a kind of dance that happens. I really enjoy that aspect of acting.
It’s quite an isolating feeling being on tour; some days you are very engaged and have a lot of energy and then other days you feel kind of slightly separate to your own life because you're living in hotel rooms. Sometimes I’ll wake up with a certain kind of mood and rather than try and eradicate that completely I'll try and tailor it in some way to what I can use for the performance. I'm not really method method but I would definitely tend to use how I feel more than not, just because I think that's helpful to me as a person.
The concept is 'thriller' but it's a psychological drama as well. Anthony wanted the set to feel like pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that Rachel is trying to manage in her head, because she has these large holes in her memory. So bits of it glide on and glide off. But the sets themselves are quite barren, so there's almost a book-like quality, pages of a book turning. Our set has not only had to work in beautiful gothic theatres or smaller Edwardian theatres, it's also had to work for contemporary large spaces as well. That's the beauty of touring, really; what keeps it fresh is that each space brings along almost a new version of the play.
I love the freedom of a stage. It's working with a story chronologically, as well. There is something really satisfying about starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. With a soap, you'll be filming six to eight episodes in a day, so in the morning you'll be doing stuff where you've lost a baby and in the afternoon you'll be doing stuff where you're still pregnant. It can be that crude. Whereas with a play, the minute you set foot on that stage, it's a rollercoaster ride and you don't get off until the end. You have creative control as an actor, within the parameters of what’s been set by the writer and the director, you then have a certain amount of freedom – and I have to say, as I get older, that freedom has become really important to me.
With television, let’s say you do your establishing shot first, which will be all the characters in the scene on a wide angle. Whatever you've committed to do in that first wide shot, you then have to manufacture identically that same performance and tone for another thirty close-ups. I was listening to Laurence Olivier talking the other day about acting, I think it was a Parkinson interview. He said you're an engineer of sorts, your technicality is completely different, you’re manufacturing the same thing over and over again – where you stand, where you move to, the tone in your voice – so it doesn't differ from what you originally committed to.
There's a lot of competition, so I try really hard not to get typecast. I understood very early on that I had to diversify if I wanted to survive, but it kept me interested creatively as well. In my 20s, I did things like Game On or Babes in the Wood. I was doing lots of comedy and kind of sexy vampy roles, and I thought ‘Well, I’m going to need to be careful here’. I got written this beautiful part called di Pauli for a series called Liverpool 1, which was quite like The Vice, and all of a sudden there was this quite fiery character who was a female in a male dominated environment but she held her own - and then I thought ‘Well, now I'm just doing TV and all of those theatre roles have stopped coming’, so I went back to musicals, I did Guys and Dolls with Patrick Swayze but then I'd cut to a straight play. I have this need to survive. I'm the breadwinner, I'm a mum and acting is really hard to get employed in now.
I can drive through the night on Saturday night after two shows, I'll get home at about two in the morning but that means I wake up at home on Sunday. It’s tough, I won’t pretend that it’s not. I’m exhausted, at weekends I just want to collapse into a little ball. Actually I'm tidying and I'm doing homework and I'm taking the dogs to go the vet; I'm trying to manage everything in that one day that I haven't managed to do in the week. But I'm very lucky; I have a very supportive husband who's also an actor, he understands how hard that is, and the kids are great too - they've grown up in this industry - we all pull together.
For me, Brighton is synonymous with my father. He was a very eccentric, sweet musician. Every time I turned up in Brighton, he'd come and meet me on the pier with his cowboy hat and his guitar and his Dalmatian dog. And he's not with us now. So I have these poignant memories. Growing up in Brighton in the '70s, we’d go down to the beach when I was two, three and four. He was discovered by Fleetwood Mac’s manager and so I’d be babysat by all these incredible musicians. I've got very vivid memories of that, like the summer of '76 when it was really hot and being a little thing, barefoot and just kind of traipsing down to the beach with a bunch of hippies. Brighton is a very, very special place to me.
As told to Mark Bridge
The Girl on the Train was at the Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday 17th until Saturday 22nd June 2019.