Back in 2013 BRITAIN caught up with actress Charlotte Cornwell who told us about her return to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Read on for rare insight into the life of a Shakespearean actor.
Already immersed in rehearsals for Hamlet, Charlotte Cornwell is glad to be back in London. Although she dabbled in TV, film and theatre in America, Charlotte admits, “I wanted to come back to start acting here again. I missed the theatre a lot and Los Angeles is not the place for theatre.”
And so, the 2013 summer season will see Charlotte take to the stage in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of both Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well. Playing Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, in the former and the Countess in the latter, Charlotte has established a matriarchal pattern, yet explains that while the characters are both mothers, “They are two mothers who are in very different situations.”
Charlotte continues, “Gertrude is a woman whose husband, after 40 years of marriage, suddenly dies, and she has to survive. She makes some decisions, which for whatever reason she decides to make, and these decisions have disastrous repercussions on her relationship with her son. But I think that Gertrude’s redeeming feature is that she loves her son above all else.”
Charlotte goes on to explain that Gertrude is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most misunderstood characters. “You can have all sorts of interpretations of why she does what she does, and we never get a scene where she explains why she’s behaved like she has. The characters, and Hamlet in particular, go on what other people say about her, and I’ve seen her interpreted as everything from an alcoholic to a bimbo.”
But Charlotte is adamant that Gertrude is quite the opposite. “Shakespeare doesn’t like victims and he doesn’t like stupid women, so the challenge for me, in this role, is to find a way to tell her story clearly, and I think she has a very clear story.”
Although rehearsals for All’s Well That Ends Well have yet to begin, Charlotte looks forward to playing a different type of woman in this production. “The Countess is a widow who is both confident and powerful, and yet she’s happy, contented, and a warm and loving mother. In a way, she’s the moral heart of that play. So the two characters are different – they’re very different kinds of women in very different situations.”
In 2008, Charlotte played Mrs Lintott in the Los Angeles Center Theater Group’s The History Boys, and while there are fundamental similarities in any theatre production, she recognises one fundamental element that sets Shakespeare apart from the rest.
“The language is heightened and that is the great difference. In terms of storytelling, which is my primary job as an actor, the process is exactly the same. But once you unlock that language and really get yourself up to it, it’s just absolutely wonderful to play.”
In Los Angeles, Charlotte also taught at the University of Southern California where she developed an unexpected interest in education, an interest she’s carried with her back to Britain. Charlotte explains, “I never thought I’d become a teacher, but in the course of working as one, I’ve become very involved in education, particularly when it comes to the arts.”
While teaching in America, Charlotte noticed that the performing arts programme was often the first thing to go when schools received funding cuts, and has seen the same thing happening in British state schools since she’s returned. “And it’s very sad,” she says, “because it limits access to the arts for large groups of young people who come from less privileged backgrounds, groups that rely on the state system for their education.”
In response, Charlotte plans to launch the Fearless Choices Young Actors Project, a free 15-month acting programme for young people who come from low-income families. Although the project is still in the planning stages, Charlotte is encouraged by the support and interest she’s received already and sees bright things for the future.
Teaching and acting aside, Charlotte admits that ultimately, she excited to be back in Britain and to have returned to the theatre. While she (quite understandably) misses California’s sunshine, Charlotte confesses, “When I was away, I missed London more – I was always homesick.”
And we’re only too pleased to welcome this talented Londoner home.
For more information on the Royal Shakespeare Company or to book tickets, please visit www.rsc.org.uk.
For information on Charlotte’s Fearless Choices Young Actors Project, please visit www.charlottecornwell.com.