Actress Tricia Kelly Q&A
By Gergana Krasteva
Tricia Kelly is currently starring in the play ‘Man to Man’ in Park Theatre. I schedule an interview with her just before the last rehearsal to talk about the production and the struggles in a one-person show. I meet with Tricia in a rainy afternoon, so we grab a cup of coffee from the downstairs bar in Park Theatre and hide in the rehearsal room where I get a sneaky preview of the stage design.
Tricia is well known in the theatre circles, she has built an impressive and long portfolio. Nevertheless, I don’t feel intimidated by her royal presence. She welcomes me with a warm smile and answers my stammered questions with a childish laugh and kindling enthusiasm.
How are you preparing for ‘Man to Man’?
For the last couple of months I have been sitting in my bed and trying to get those lines back. We only started rehearsals a week ago, so the first days I was completely exhausted; my voice was gone and I had coughing fits. As I am playing a woman passing as a man, my voice shifts quickly – you’ve got to make sure your vocal cords are in great condition. But my body and my soul indeed remember everything. It is terrifying, but it will be fine.
Will there be any changes from the first time you starred in ‘Man to Man’ in Mercury Theatre, Colchester?
A year has gone by, you sort of have a chance to rethink what you can do better, so at the moment we are exploring options. As my character is a crane driver, when we did the play in Colchester, we had an actual crane at the end. There will be slight adjustments as it is a different space.
What does the play personally mean to you?
I first saw ‘Man to Man’ when Tilda Swinton did it in 1987. It was such a startling image of a person who is both a man and a woman, and the idea of taking on a man’s identity and getting away with it which the character does for 40 years… It is the most wonderful piece of writing about identity. She is a German woman in 1932 whose husband has died, so she takes on his job because she is terrified of starving. I mean it was the Depression and jobs were very difficult to find and being a woman on your own was very hard. So at first, the play is about survival but then of course history. My character is in the middle of what’s known as a very turbulent piece of history – the rise of Nazism. And suddenly from just worrying about her own little life and whether she can earn a wage and get away with impersonating her husband, my character is suddenly facing having to worry about whether she’s going to be called up to the front, whether she’s going to have to go to a medical for the army. She’s ducking and diving and trying to sort of avoid being found out, so she is making choices, not all of which good and moral ones. She’s like a rat that struggles just to survive. Most of the times playing a man, but sometimes using feminine whiles to get herself out of sticky situations or to turn a trick or two around. But what happens is that my character realises that she starts losing her own identity, who is she? She has lost herself really, completely lost.
Is there any particular moment of ‘Man to Man’ which you can identify with?
My strongest connection with the play is the difficulty of being a woman, feeling you aren’t enough in the world. I am from the generation that experienced the early days of feminism. That is why I am interested in this story, as it is someone’s experience of being both a man and a woman – a man in the world but a woman deep inside. I simply wanted to know what it is like.
Is that the only reason why you chose to take part in this production?
Yes and no. It is a marvellous play for an older actress really. It’s been said before, but as you get older sometimes the parts in theatre get less and less interesting. You are not part of the protagonist world. And this is just a cracking story told by a woman who isn’t a film star, she’s never been a beauty, she’s not middle class. She is just a survivor in the 60ths. Moreover, this is a one-person show – you have this amazing but frightening opportunity to practically build a play on your own. It is good to do a part which stretches your acting mussels; the only challenge is that you have no cast to have a drink with afterwards.
Read our review of Man to Man.
From the 8th of the December Tricia will be starring in the play ‘Tiger Country’ at Hampstead Theatre. Till then, it is highly recommended you see her in ‘Man to Man’. The show is running in Park Theatre by the 30th this month, for further information or to book tickets visit here their website.
Picture credits: Mike Kwasniak