Jane McLeish-Kelsey Sophie Paxton
Styled by a warm embrace. I emerge disarmed and charmed in equal measure.
‘I’ve always been overly familiar with people,’ she later confesses. ‘I just love people. I love them a lot.’ Is she a people-watcher? ‘No, I’m straight in there, full throttle. I doubt myself a lot, but go forward at full throttle anyway.’
I had worried that the bustling café would be too distracting a place in which to conduct an interview. Yet from the second Kirby sits down, she commands your full attention. You have to concentrate, too, because Kirby, a darling of London’s most radical young stage directors, often speaks in an enthusiastic but inchoate stream of consciousness. Overlapping ideas are pounced on, mulled over, forgotten, then much later looped back to. ‘I love the idea of being an Aries,’ she offers up at one point, before adding: ‘My friends, who all call me Noo, think I operate on another planet.’
Certainly, this year promises to be a stellar one: a showcase for her dazzling versatility. On stage she will play Elena in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Almeida, and make her Broadway debut when she and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles as Stella and Blanche DuBois in the production of A Streetcar Named Desire that brought them acclaim at the Young Vic in 2014. On screen she will be seen as Zelda Fitzgerald in Michael Grandage’s debut film Genius, a kickass cyborg-like anti-heroine working for an arms manufacturer in the dystopian thriller Kill Command, and as the young Princess Margaret in the Netflix series The Crown.
Uncle Vanya, which opens next month, will see her star alongside her good friend Jessica Brown Findlay. She will play the alluring Elena to Brown Findlay’s put-upon Sonya, in a contemporary staging, adapted and directed by the wunderkind Robert Icke.