Oresteia Star Lia Williams on How Klytemnestra Is Like Wallis Simpson & More

first_imgLia Williams was nominated for a 1997 Tony for her performance in the original Broadway production of Skylight, since which time the gifted actress’s stage appearances have included the 2011 Broadway revival of Arcadia and Pinter’s Old Times in the West End opposite Kristin Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell. Williams is back on the London boards playing the grief-stricken, impassioned Klytemnestra in Robert Icke’s hugely acclaimed Almeida production of Aeschylus’ tragic yet thrilling Oresteia. Broadway.com spoke to the -expert actress about making ancient texts live for today and why, in theater terms, she can’t go home again.A three-hour Greek epic is pretty unusual for the West End. Has the audience appeal of this production been a surprise?It has! What we’re finding is there is obviously a very real appetite for this sort of thing—as long as you can make it accessible. We’re all delighted and amazed and hugely encouraged that theater can be this. It sort of defies the idea that to have a show in the West End you have to have a big star or some dated version of something, neither of which is true if you get the ingredients right and you’re rigorous in what you believe the theater to be.Is it cathartic rather than draining?Absolutely. What happens is you don’t carry the grief of it, but you do carry the release of it, which is phenomenal to play. And at night, I find that I’m sleeping very well: I don’t even need sleeping pills.How do you account for the sudden upsurge of interest in the Greek classics that has this year included Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai and Kate Fleetwood opening shortly as Medea?Well, I’m not an academic or a classicist, but what strikes me is that the Greeks were very much a people that had a great philosophical debate at the very center of their civic society about who they were and why they were on the planet. That was part of their everyday conversation.They didn’t shy away from the big topics.That’s right. They were interested in why do we kill? Why do we have these big emotions in us? What are they and do we need to control them—and if so, why should we? My own instinct on this is that at times of great stability in the world, we reach back into history to try and anchor ourselves in something.Klytemnestra is certainly a seismic role: tell us your thoughts on her.I see her as a doting mother and a loving and passionate wife who is deeply in love with her husband. This is the complexity of it: she has to kill [Agamemnon] because she can’t have him living on the planet with her. It really is an incredible role for a woman.Rather surprisingly, a second production of this same play opened at Shakespeare’s Globe within a week of yours transferring to the West End.Yes, and I won’t be rushing to see it. That would be too difficult anyway, I think, given that I am so close to the story. I could never see Skylight again, for instance, or any of the shows I’ve been in. They leave a little imprint on your heart and become like a treasure box.You weren’t tempted to check out Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in the recent revival of Skylight?I really wasn’t. I’m a great friend of Bill ’s and a huge fan of Carey, but I needed to keep my memory of [David Hare’s play] intact. I didn’t want that to be disturbed.What are your memories of the celebrated scene in Skylight where your character has to cook pasta on stage in real time?I used to get so many letters from members of the audience saying, “I’m really sorry but you don’t put the oil in the pot first” or “adding fresh herbs would be so much nicer.” Since that show, I think I’ve been resolutely turned off pasta.What are your memories of being nominated for a Tony Award?I have such hugely romantic memories of that time. I took my son [Joshua James] with me, who was six turning seven, and we used to rollerblade around New York together. I refused to send him to school because I wanted him to experience New York; he learned more in the six months he was there from all the museums and galleries and the amazing architecture than he could have in any classroom.Now that Josh has become a successful young actor in his own right, have the two of you thought about doing plays together?We spent about five minutes thinking about Oresteia for both of us but because of the nature of it and also the violence, we thought it might cause anxieties for our first outing together that we don’t need.Have you been able to do any filming during all of this?In fact I’ve been played [American socialite] Wallis Simpson in this huge series for Netflix called The Crown. I’ve shot this year’s lot and there are another six episodes next year. She works really well with Klytemnestra because she’s another one-off character who very much follows her own path and is very much her own person—complicated and interesting.All of which sounds as if this is a banner time for you.It’s funny. When I was doing Wallis and getting up at 4AM, I was thinking how am I going to do this and Klytemnestra at the same time?! In fact, one fed the other amazingly well. It’s amazing what you can do when you love [the work] so much. View Commentslast_img read more