Interview: Orla Sanders Talks Taking on “Twelfth Night” – Solo

The talented Orla Sanders returns to the Camden Fringe with a brand new and very ambitious show this year: a one woman “Twelfth Night”. You can catch this mammoth undertaking of twelve characters and 7,500 words performed by one actress in just sixty minutes at the Etcetera Theatre on August 23rd and 24th (1.30pm). Here, Orla talks about how the show came to be, something rather brilliantly coined “prop-ography” and the joy of returning to live and in-the-flesh audiences…

It’s been a good long while since I last saw you, performing in ‘Sea Changes’ and ‘Ugly’ at a previous Camden Fringe and it looks like you’ve been very busy! Tell me a little bit about when and how the decision was made to take on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” with yourself playing 12 characters.

During the first lockdown (March 2019) my sister was assigned as a Covid nurse in the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton and it immediately became apparent they were under-resourced in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). I was concerned for her welfare and wanted to do something to contribute to the hospital’s resources and help protect my sister, Cliona Dunne. So I decided to raise money for the hospital and as an actor a performance seemed like the most obvious solution.

Very commendable – so why Shakespeare, why a Shakespearean comedy, and why this particular Shakespearean comedy for this solo venture?

In order to raise money during a financially uncertain time for people (a lot of my friends were furloughed) I knew I would need to do something that presented a huge challenge and a feat of some magnitude. I thought
Shakespeare offered the textual and technical difficulties required to match such a challenge. Once I had made that decision, a comedy seemed like an obvious choice because at the time there was an atmosphere of worry and fear surrounding the virus – so I wanted to do a play that would make people laugh and escape from their stresses for an hour.

Well this project is certainly quite a challenge by anyone’s standards, so how have you found the process of being something resembling an entire cast and creative team?

The first thing I realised was that I couldn’t do this by myself and would need support. I turned to the incredible director Danae Cambrook – someone with whom I have worked previously on Shakespeare and on a multi-role play, and who I knew would elevate and transform this piece into something very special. The second person I knew I needed was the outstanding movement director Amy Lawrence – with whom I have also worked in the past – a talent capable of setting this piece apart physically. We three women then set about working on something that would not only make people laugh but look and sound fantastic. For us it was not just about the feat of learning 7,500 words and performing 12 characters: it was about delivering a high quality show that was original, polished and entertaining.

And how have you gone about learning and rehearsing each part?

Before I started rehearsals I wanted to learn the intimidating 7,500 word script with 12 different characters’ voices. Over the past few years I’ve had some inspirational training with Owen Horsley from Bard City on their ‘Shakespeare in a Week’ courses. In each course, participants are cast in a Shakepeare play, given a week to learn lines followed by a week of rehearsals, before a performance for an invited audience. These courses have given me the confidence to do the impossible with Shakespeare and to trust my instincts. It took me about three to four weeks full time to learn the lines, and we had another three or four weeks dotted with rehearsals. The characters evolved the whole time, and to be honest they are still evolving, still being refined.

It sounds like you are very well prepared then! This is obviously going to be a pacy comic affair with so much happening in just 60 minutes – how are you approaching the speedy shifts between characters?

I like to describe this piece as an unseen dance; Lawrence created a movement language that sees character physicality and individual props appear and disappear seamlessly. What may appear as effortless transitions are the result of hours of rehearsing choreography or what we fondly referred to as the “prop-ography”. Cambrook honed in on pace, instilling a controlled and measured tone to give the audience ample time to acclimatise before bringing them on the ride of their life.

It’s a cruel question, but I have to ask it: do you have a favourite character so far?

How dare you! I love all my children the same! I joke that during the lockdown my friends all had Covid babies and this is my Covid baby. When people tell me their favourite character in the play I usually set about defending the other characters like some mad mother.

Beautifully side-stepped there, like all the best of the bard actors! You originally performed this piece via Facebook Live and the reception was very positive. What are you most looking forward to when it comes to getting back to performing for live and in-person audiences?

I actually performed it down at Brighton Fringe for five shows at the beginning of July and it was just so wonderful to get back in front of a live audience. What shocked me was how much people laughed – I mean, I think I’m hilarious but I didn’t think other people would! People really bought into the spirit of it; for example, I did a mother and baby show one morning, and during the party scene which sees five characters arrive and dance to Martin Garrix ‘Animals’ all the mothers with their babies got up and started dancing. Shakespeare, Garrix and a load of babies…sure why not!

Now that sounds like a fabulous “welcome back” to me! Finally then, in one sentence only, tell us why people should come along to see this one woman “Twelfth Night” extravaganza…

We are a fresh voice in Shakespeare delivering on laughs and tapping into the zeitgeist in a new and exciting way.

So there you have it! Remember: you can catch Orla Sanders’ one woman “Twelfth Night” at the Etcetera Theatre on August 23rd and 24th (1.30pm) 2021 – get your tickets here.

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