It’s hard to get your breath back when you are wearing corsets and talking so much
Women are putting men in their place in a gender-switching version of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew. Claire Price talks to MARION MCMULLEN about tinkering with the Bard and the trials of motherhood
You play the traditional male role in The Taming Of The Shrew with Joseph Arkley as Katherine. What has the reversal been like? (LAUGHS) I love it, love it, love it. It’s really fantastic. I have done a lot of Shakespeare and it’s nice this time to be the one who does the most talking. Shakespeare has written a lot of great parts for women, but you sometimes don’t learn a lot about their characters. Now I get to be this person that can properly articulate everything... and Petruchia talks a lot.
I also love being the one that is a kind of sexual threat. I’ve not got to play that before. Originally in rehearsals I was playing the role as a man being very butch, very privileged and entitled, but this is a play about money and a statusridden society. There are two groups of people – one has the power and one doesn’t. And here it is the women who have the power.
How have you been managing with the large wig and costumes?
(CHUCKLES) The wig is fantastic. The wig does the work for me really. What I love about the costumes is the men are in brocades and delicate silks and the women are in these corsets and large, enormous skirts. It’s like Elizabeth I had the power but still wore corsets and large frocks, only she just kept making them bigger and bigger.
It’s not one of mine, but I think one of the costumes in the production is made of carpet.
Is the role physically demanding?
I now have a baby girl and I recently did King Lear with Sir Ian McKellen, but it was modern dress, so I could go on as Goneril in heels and wearing L K Bennett. I had to get match fit very quickly for this. It’s hard to get your breath back when you are wearing corsets and talking so much. The first few times I nearly passed out. I just hadn’t done anything physical after having the baby. When I was pregnant I didn’t even run for the bus. This has been a physical fitness workout.
How are you managing everything with your baby daughter Peggy?
AS soon as I finish it’s down to the real work of the day, looking after her. Until I had a baby I had no idea how much you can do on very little sleep. If I had insomnia before I found it challenging if I’d only had two hours, but two nights ago she didn’t sleep at all and I still did a show. (Laughs) It’s totally changed my expectations of sleep.
Your TV roles include Home Fires, Call The Midwife and Rebus. How did you get the acting bug?
I’M an unusual case. My parents (John Price and Andree Evans) were both actors and I remember sitting in their dressing room listening to them performing on the tannoy and playing backstage. One of my first roles was when I was two and a television series my dad was doing needed a child and my dad said: ‘My daughter can play that part’. When I was about four I was also one of Macduff’s children at Nottingham Playhouse in Macbeth.
My parents had Shakespeare for breakfast. I was raised on it. My dad was in Stratford with Helen Mirren in the 1970s and my mother was here in the 1990s with Tony Sher and Peter Hall.
Was there ever a plan B?
I don’t remember ever really wanting to do anything else. I had a brief fantasy about being an astronaut, but you have to have maths to be an astronaut.
The Taming Of The Shrew is going to be broadcast live to cinemas nationwide. King Lear was also broadcast in cinemas. Is it a different dynamic? THEY had a monitor backstage for Lear so we could see what was happening. It looked like an Old Master painting and it was so beautiful to see it on the screen.
It’s pretty terrifying to do a live broadcast, quite scary, it feels like taking an exam – your acting is being examined – but it is a fascinating thing to do and it looks brilliant in cinemas. Sometimes people can feel like they are part of the theatre audience and sometimes it is like being up on stage with the actors.
Would you ever like the chance to play Katherine in The Taming Of The Shrew?
I WOULD love it. Joseph Arkley plays Kate in our production and we both know the parts so well and know each other’s lines that we could just switch characters and then carry on.
I never in a million years expected to play Petruchia and I would like the chance to play Katherine, but it would feel odd. I now realise how little Kate gets to say.
■ The Taming Of The Shrew is being broadcast live in cinemas nationwide on June 5 and is on tour from September 25. Go to rsc.org.uk for further details.
Claire as Petruchia in The Taming Of The Shrew