Isobel Middleton is well known as a versatile actor who is not just a star of stage, but screen, radio and even a video game.
From series such as “Dr Who”, “Emmerdale” and “Eastenders” to movies “Eric, Ernie and Me” – to radio; as Anna Tregorran in BBC Radio 4 Drama “The Archers” – her long standing and varied career had taken her away from the stage for some time – but she returns to tread the boards with Northern Broadsides as Beatrice in their latest tour “Much Ado About Nothing”.
The show opened at the New Vic Theatre last week and we sat down with Isobel in the theatre’s lively cafe to chat:
What has brought you back to the stage for this Broadsides production?
“I was offered a job so i took it! It’s quite expedient. It was a nice job that I auditioned for and I was delighted when I was offered the role – theatre is my first love and I’d do it all the time if I could afford to and people wanted to employ me! I didn’t hesitate, I wanted to get back on stage!”
Broadsides are a renowned theatre company in the North – are you a fan?
“I never thought I would work for Broadsides, although I have northern roots. I know their work and was aware of their great reputation and I was delighted to get a chance to audition for them! I am a fan of theirs and now that i’m working with them for the first time I can see they have an amazing ethos. We have people who are musicians, singers, actors, dancers – I am blown away by everyone’s ability. I didn’t know any of the broadsides lot before now!”
Are you a Shakespeare fan?
“I am a Shakespeare fan! I’ve spoken to a lot of people since rehearsing this and many have mixed views on Shakespeare. I was very fortunate that i had some brilliant teachers at school who made Shakespeare understandable. The key is getting it off the page, I can see why people get bogged down with it but he was an amazing dramatist writing the soap opera’s of his day! I think if you can see good productions of Shakespeare it would improve your relationships with him. Too many times people are reminded of a dreary day at school when it was written to be performed!”
Speaking of school – did you always think you were going to be an actress?
Yeah, I think I wanted to be an actress from an early age but I didn’t know it was a job! I remember my parents and grandparents used to take me to the theatre and I thought how wonderful to be an actor! But I did originally set out to be an archaeologist but fell back into acting”.
Are you enjoying the modern version of modern “Much Ado” – set at the end of World War Two?
Yes it is, and of course that in itself has a particular resonance in Britain. Fabulous music, the clothes were amazing. The play starts at the end of the war when the men have been away for a long time fighting. So there is a lot of joy that people can relate to – but as much as it is a modern production we haven’t messed with it very much. Part of the brilliance of Shakespeare is that the characters can stay the same and it’s still relevant. We’ve kept the names the same and tried to keep most of the original production together”.
So who is ‘your’ “Beatrice”?
Well! She’s part of the main family where the action happens which in our mind is some large country home that has been appropriated for the war effort. She’s the niece of the head of the family, lived their most of her life. Involved but slightly apart because she doesn’t have the pressure of being his daughter. She’s her own woman, in some ways quite contemporary. We are familiar with women like her now. She’s funny, quick witted, opinionated – but of course susceptible to other things including love. She’s decided that she’s not going to get married, but that might change through the show!”
Do you prefer a particular genre? Radio, TV, Stage? (or Video Games!)
I did do a video game! The best part of that was it was with a company called Electronic Arts – going to their headquarters was amazing! This incredible modern building in the middle of the countryside. It was like a James Bond movie where the bad guys would hang out! Those things are always fun”.
I would say that there’s nothing quite like live theatre – you get to have rehearsals, which you don’t in anything else! So the fun and the agony is in the rehearsal room which is a real privileged of this job – having time to work things out and how to do things well. Television you’re lucky if you get a rehearsal before the camera starts filming! Nothing beats theatre for the full acting experience. And of course a play isn’t complete without it’s audience – which is lovely and you are kept on your toes”.
How do you find seeing yourself on screen?
“Ahhh It’s horrible! I don’t look for myself on TV in fact these days if I do any tele work I’ll deliberately not tell anyone and take the dog for a walk once it’s on! I might sneak a look at it to see how dreadful I was!”
You moved to the peak district recently didn’t you – how’s that – in the middle of Much Ado’s tour route!
“Yes! Isn’t that marvelous! Yeah, we brought a beautiful house that needed some work. It’s beautiful up there and so close to the peak district beauty spots. It’s brilliant that it works out so well. At the end of the tour we are taking it to a Shakespeare Festival in Germany! I’m enjoying taking the show to different places and audiences – and I’m sure we’ll get lots of reactions!
“One of the first shows that we are doing is Salisbury! And my parents and their friends will be coming to see it. I think they’re bringing a minibus! I’m looking forward to their southern take on our northern version of the show!
A Couple of Quick fires to finish off! What’s your favourite theatre show?
“Well they’re all different! But about 12 years ago I was here at the New Vic playing Jean Brodie – that was great fun and Andy who is in “Much Ado” was in that too! He is my Uncle in this show but was my lover in that one! That was a great show. We had fun doing that. But I don’t think I’ve ever done a play that I’ve hated – each one is different. Let’s see how this one goes and I’ll tell you which one is my favourite!
I know it months away – but what’s next for you after this?
“I have nothing lined up! But having said that it would be hope the phone rings – as much as we love the art it’s also about paying the bills! After this i’ll probably get back to renovating the house but I also am trying to get a play produced that I’ve written – it’s on the back-burner at the moment but this is what i want to concentrate on. At the moment it’s called “The Dog on the stair” – that may change. I’d love to get that on by the end of the year”.
“I love being here, I love being in Stoke. I’ve always had a very happy time at this theatre. It’s got a real family feel – you very rapidly get to know people and feel part of the team. They will go out of their way to help you. It’s an amazing community hub, the people of Newcastle really love it. To have somehwere like thisw hich brings people together and offers them something different means that you really feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. Such a lovely theatre and a wonderful place to work in”.
Thank you, Isobel, for your time speaking to At The Theatre!
Interview with Rob Stanway.
About The Show:
Opening Night of a brand new tour – from the audience: by contributor Nick Haynes:
“When William Shakespeare penned Much Ado About Nothing I doubt even his imagination would have stretched to seeing his play set post world war 2, with land girls, the home guard, a barbers shop quartet and tunes from the America’s.
“Whilst staying fairly truthful to the original work in story and script this New Vic and northern broadside co-production is packed with humour, romance, plotting and sub plotting that unravel to bring a happy ending for most! As typical for theatre in the round, the set is minimal, with cast smoothly transitioning their own props from scene to scene.
“Good use of wall projection puts the audience within the scenes, and the cast make great use of the stages many entrances and exits. For the show itself it took a good ten minutes to switch into ‘Shakespeare mode’, getting to grips with the script and picking out the characters despite my familiarity of the story but once into the flow it became very easy to follow.
“Many of the cast are required to not just act, but also dance, sing and play instruments, all of which they deliver on. So whilst you may balk at the thought of an evening of Shakespeare, I can recommend a highly entertaining evening where the story tells itself so simply. The show runs until sat 2nd March before moving on to a UK Tour”.
UK Tour Dates:
Current Venue: New Vic Theatre – www.newvictheatre.org.uk
Tue 5-Sat 9 March- The Dukes Lancaster
Box Office: 01524 598500 / https://dukes-lancaster.org/
Tue 12– Sat 16 March -Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Box Office: 01723 370541 / https://www.sjt.uk.com/
Tue 19-Sat 23 March -Salisbury Playhouse
Box Office: 01722 320333 / https://www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk/
Tue 26-Sat 30 March -Derby Theatre
Box Office: 01332 593939 /https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/
Tue 2-Sat 6 April -Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Box Office: 01284 769505 / https://www.theatreroyal.org/
Tue 16-Sat 20 April – Lawrwence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
Box Office: 01484 430528 / https://www.thelbt.org/
Wed 24 April – Sat 4 May – Viaduct Theatre, Halifax
Box Office: 01422 255266 / https://www.deanclough.com/whatson/
Tue 7-Sat 11 May -The Lowry, Salford
Box Office: 08432086000 / https://thelowry.com/
Tue 14 – Sat 18 May -York Theatre Royal
Box Office 01904 623568 / or www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
Tue 21-Sat 25 May-Harrogate Theatre
Box Office: 01423 502116 https://www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/