Kirsty Woodward tells us about playing the role of The Woman in Steptoe and Son
Do you have you any memories of the TV series, Steptoe and Son?
I remember my Dad used to watch it, when I was little, I would creep in and sit next to him on the sofa and watch bits. I remember my Dad laughed and my mum didn’t.
What preparation did you do before starting rehearsals?
I watched some episodes of Steptoe, to get a sense of the world and to see some of the women that come into it. I read the script again and again. I think the very first time you read a script is really precious because that initial impression of the story and the characters can completely change once you put it on its feet. The writing is so brilliant but I think that’s always half the magic and the rest has to happen on your feet, in the room, on the stage. You can get a sense of the world from the words and the story but once you start playing and searching in rehearsals that’s when you really flesh it out and get to know it inside out, upside down, heart and soul. You can find things and hear things that you didn’t just from reading it. That’s what separates a book from a play! When I did plays at school and we read them like books I always felt completely lost and really frustrated because they aren’t made for that, they are made for you to breathe life into them. The academic approach has its place and is necessary but it has to be married with a practical, playful approach.
What does having an omnipresent female character bring to the production?
I think the female character represents some of the things that are missing in Harold and Albert’s lives. She exists outside the junk yard, outside their world and when she tries to come into their world they won’t let her. She is the road not taken, the opportunity of change, escape, love, sex, family and freedom that the men don’t choose.
What is your favourite character to play in the production and why?
It changes every night but I enjoy them all, it’s such a treat and a challenge to get to play so many different roles all in one play. Every night the show will be different anyway, the audience will be different, we will all be a day older, the weather will be different, the atmosphere, your quick change, your dinner…one of the things I always love about watching kneehigh shows is how LIVE their work it feels as an audience member, how fresh and in the moment.
In the rehearsal room, how did you, Dean Nolan and Mike Shepherd explore the relationship between Albert, Harold and the different female characters?
We did it differently for each character but Emma and Neil (our designer) always dressed me up before we met each character for the first time, which was really useful, just seeing yourself in the mirror dressed as your character can help so much, it gives you a little polaroid in your head of what your character looks like, or shoes that make you walk differently, or a wig that makes you feel older, or a suit that makes you feel like a man. Then you are armed before you actually start to play with Harold and Albert and the text. For one of the exercises we did Emma asked us to make an installation for our characters, I chose Roxanne and created a messy bedroom filled with clothes and make up and music and a bottle of gin, then Albert created his space, a dingy, dark corner filled with junk and rags and Harold his, filled with junk and music alcohol, then Emma got Albert and Harold to interact then she got me to walk into their spaces, have moments with them both then out again, which in some ways was our play in miniature and without words!
What lessons, if any, do you think we learn from the production as an audience?
Like any type of art, everyone will take something different from it. I wouldn’t use the word ‘lesson’ though. It’s more about what responses or emotions it might evoke. We are all completely different people with different life experiences which will affect how we look at anything. Unlike maths there isn’t a definitive answer to a sum, with art you can take what you want from what you see, what you experience and have a totally unique and personal response to it. Of course there are moments when you may laugh or cry or gasp in time with an entire audience but ultimately it’s a personal and individual response. I find the relationship between Harold and Albert at moments hilarious and at moments utterly heart breaking. I watch it desperate for Harold to break free but at the same time not wanting Albert to be left alone, an old man with no one by his side. I see in the play situations and people from my own family
Kirsty Woodward, The Woman