Anna Maxwell Martin On ... A Female ReunionDate: 14 July 2008
In 2003, actress Anna Maxwell Martin co-starred with Eileen Aktins in the UK premiere of Australian Joanna Murray-Smithís play Honour, directed by Roger Michell. This week, she opens in the UK premiere of Murray-Smithís The Female of the Species, once again starring Atkins and directed by her now-partner Michell. In the intervening years, Maxwell Martin has racked up credits including His Dark Materials, Three Sisters and Cabaret on stage, and Bleak House, Becoming Jane, Poppy Shakespeare and Enduring Love on screen.
I was totally thrilled when I got the job on Honour. I was really young, not long out of drama school. It was the second play I did at the National, after The Coast of Utopia. I wanted it so badly. I was desperate for it. It was like working with acting royalty. I responded to the play at that particular time and at that age. I was in my early twenties. I hadnít personally but a lot of my friends had been through their parentsí marriage break-up. Just like in the play.
Eileen Atkins never offered me any advice on Honour, she isnít like that. Sheís so extraordinarily talented that she could play that card, being the Dame, if she wanted to, but she is so far from that. Sheís just part of the group, thatís the most wonderful thing about her. Joanna Murray-Smith is fantastic too. Sheís a great help in the rehearsal room, and sheís very open. If you say, ďI donít know if this quite works, can we not change things?Ē, she isnít rigid or precious. If something isnít working, she changes it.
I didnít realise how amazing Roger Michell is when we did Honour. I just thought it was blissful working with him, very relaxed. He makes it easy for you as an actor, heís very supportive, incisive and detailed. After Honour, I did the film Enduring Love with him as well, but this is the first time weíve worked together while weíve been together as a couple. Itís something that neither of us particularly wanted or thought we could do - you need some space - but luckily, Roger and I donít mind being together a lot of the time.
The Female of the Species wasnít a planned reunion. Rog came across the play in LA. It was going to be done in New York, but he didnít want to do that. He wanted to do it here with Eileen. Then he asked me to read it and said, ďif you would like to do it, thereís this part I would like you to doĒ. I would say it was accidental, I donít think it was preordained or anything.
In The Female of the Species, I play Molly, a student of Eileenís feminist author character, Margot, whoís very obsessed with her and her work and Iíve visited her house uninvited and Ö enough said. Thereís the potential for violence. Itís definitely not like being Eileenís daughter, like I was in Honour, although in some ways, itís similar. Molly thinks Margot is her surrogate mother in a strange way. She has no mother herself so I think she wants Margot to take on that mantle, but Margot is not up for that at all.
We did research on lots of feminists because the play touches on feminism as a whole. Itís certainly not a play about Germaine Greer. Itís based on a certain instance in her life, but I donít think Joanna would want to be shackled by writing about a real-life person so Margot is very far from who Germaine Greer is. We have obviously discussed feminism a lot and the people who are crucial to that movement.
Itís interesting having women of different ages in the room, like Eileen, Sophie Thompson and then me. Eileen is in her seventies and can remember a time when women didnít have the freedom or liberties that we enjoy now. I come from a different place. I donít think I am a feminist but then I donít know how many true feminists there are left in my generation. We expect quality and we think we get it. But actually if you take it onto a broader, global spectrum, thereís still huge work to be done.
- Anna Maxwell Martin was speaking to Terri Paddock
The Female of the Species receives its UK premiere on 16 July 2008 (previews from 10 July) at the West Endís Vaudeville Theatre, where itís booking until 4 October 2008.