Britain’s TNT Theatre has a winning formula: create skeleton but versatile casts, give them sets that fold into suitcases, then have them take Shakespeare to the masses – on five continents, in countless countries. But part of their success no doubt rests with the on-stage/off-stage relationship between their dynamic duo Natalia Campbell and Richard Ede.
They stand out in a talented team, not least because they remember that characterisation involves both voice and body – rarer than you might think. November’s Othello was just one example: Ede’s drunken Cassio gave us all sympathy nausea, while Campbell deftly vaulted between countess, bellydancer and anguished nurse. Together, they have spent over six years with TNT, braving food poisoning, on-stage injuries and living out of carry-on luggage for months in strange hotels.
Now, they are returning as Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the bard’s best-loved romance for grownups.
How did you first get together?
NC We met 11 years ago, when we were working at a theatre company in the north of England. I had decided to stay single for a while, but we got talking every night after rehearsals and Richard started to grow on me. [After the] tour was over, I realised how I felt – that not seeing him again would be devastating. And we’ve been together ever since.
RE We got talking in the pub on the first night, but Natalia wasn’t interested – however, for me, it was love at first sight! I had to work pretty hard to win her affections! Eventually, my persistence paid off.
What is it like working together so closely?
RE It is nice to play a couple as we already bring that dynamic to the rehearsal room from our personal life. Shakespeare always explores how relationships work, so sometimes we are passionately in love – or, as in Much Ado, we start out hating each other’s guts!
NC There is a lot of trust and I respect his opinion, even if I don’t agree. I always try what he suggests.
What is your favourite thing about TNT?
RE The obvious upsides are the travel and having a long contract. It is not as glamorous as it sounds though; the jetlag, constant upheaval and lack of sleep take their toll. Regular questions heard from he company include ‘What country are we in tomorrow?’
NC I agree about travel, the long contract and also the downsides. But [I’ve always been] transfixed by Shakespeare’s words, stories and characters. Doing productions was a dream come true, and working for TNT gets better each year.
What are some of the best and worst things that have happened on the road?
NC The best? Performing in the foothills of the Himalayas, being the first actors to do Romeo and Juliet in Vietnam, and making my seventh trip to China. As for the worst, in one week, we had a car crash, an audience member ran on stage for a dare, and we were stopped and questioned by the police, who [were even harder on us when] they found out we were actors. I also went to hospital twice. That was a tough week.
RE [After getting hurt during] Romeo and Juliet, the doctor would only agree to see me on his day off because his wife loved TNT; also, the ambulance driver came over and told me he had seen the show and loved it. Sometimes the nicest moments come from the worst situations.
So tell us about Much Ado About Nothing...
NC Beatrice is modern, outspoken, an orphan, a feminist and [a spinster] who uses her wit for humour as well as a shield. It’s amazing that Shakespeare wrote so well for women when [back then] they weren’t even allowed on stage. The show is a great comment on men and women, honour, pride, gossip, duty and love, and it’s teamed with beautiful music.
RE I play Benedick, which is a real treat for any actor. I have to be the funny guy, the lover, the fighter, the peacekeeper – all these facets in one incredibly well-rounded and wellwritten character.
Given your long history, any plans to get married?
NC We just haven’t got round to it yet. But I feel we are married; he is my soul mate and best friend. I don’t think a ring would change it, although I do like jewellery, and a big party with all our friends and family would be quite something!
RE We have been married on stage hundreds of times so at least we’ve had some practice! When we do get round to it, we should have a doublepage article in Time Out!
Much Ado About Nothing is at Chaoyang Culture Centre Nine Theatres on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 March 2011.