Scottish actress Siobhan Redmond attended St Andrews University (where she studied English) ahead of a one-year postgraduate at Bristol Old Vic.
Since then, her many theatre credits include US and Them (Hampstead Theatre), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Lyceum, Edinburgh), Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Spanish Tragedy and Much Ado about Nothing (RSC), The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, Macbeth, and Perfect Days, which was written for her by Liz Lochhead and which transferred to the West End after runs in Edinburgh and at Hampstead Theatre.
On the small screen, Redmond has been seen in The Smoking Room, Sea of Souls, Ed Stone Is Dead, Holby City, Deacon Brodie, Relative Stranger, The Bill, Bulman, Look Back in Anger, Rab C Nesbitt, Taggart and Alfresco amongst others. Her films include Beautiful People, Karmic Mothers, Captives and Duet for One.
Redmond is now playing Queen Isabella of Spain in Torben Betts’ new play The Lunatic Queen, which opens this week for a limited season at west London’s Riverside Studios.
Date & place of birth
Born 27 July 1959 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Lives now in...
North London and Edinburgh.
At the Bristol Old Vic. I’d already done four years at university in St Andrews so I had to find a one-year course.
First big break
A show called True Confessions by my friend Liz Lochhead. I was just about to go to drama school when that show happened and, because people were becoming aware of her work at the time, lots came to see it. I’m sure I worked off the back of that play for about four years after.
Watching Victor Spinetti playing Hankle the Shrankle in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I was playing Goldilocks, and watching him manipulate the audience was incredible. That was in 1985/6 at the Belfast Opera House.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
The Spanish Tragedy at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s wonderful if you find you’re working with one actor that you have a rapport with and here there were six of us who had an amazing rapport. We had the best time. Perfect Days by Liz Lochhead, which she wrote as a present to me. Liz gave me my copy wrapped up with a bow and with my name in gold pen. I came to know her at university. The writer-in-residence at St Andrews at the time was Marcella Evaristi. She wrote a revue in which I was one of cast members and Liz came to see it. We happened to be from the same place and I’ve known her ever since then. The director of Marcella’s show, Mouth Piece, was Michael Boyd, so I’ve known him since then too.
I’m lucky in that I’ve worked with lots of lovely people. Normally, on the first day of rehearsal, I look around and wonder who is going to be the company pest - and it’s always me! I suppose the late Don Henderson, with whom I worked at the very beginning of my career, was my favourite. We did a television show called Bulman. There were only two of us working on it full time, and it took a year to shoot. He was such a wonderful person and a fantastic actor so lots of other great actors wanted to be in it because of him. I was in the privileged position of being around that. Don was a very kind man. I remember my audition for Bulman was really intimidating with a boardroom table and all these stern people on the other side. He got up and came and sat with me - that tells you everything you need to know about him. He came to acting late in life and thought he was very fortunate to be doing it. You couldn’t get the word ‘tantrum’ in the same sentence as Don Henderson. Sometimes, when I’m throwing all my toys out of the pram, I have a vision of his face laughing, saying “what are you doing?”. He was delightful.
Michael Boyd, because I do think he’s a genius. If I knew what made him one, my life would be very different! He actually doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody, and he has a knack for finding the language to get the best out of every individual. Even the plays he does that don’t work are fascinating. And he’s very funny. Who else would say to an actor in a small part to stop because what they are doing is far too interesting! He once said to me “What are you doing that for?”, and I said “Because you told you told me to”. His answer was, “I don’t care whose bad idea it was, I never want to see it again!”
Liz Lochhead and the entirely blameless Shakespeare. I do like new plays, not least because the critics can’t play compare and contrast. Of the young Scottish playwrights I like Ian Heggy.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Ian Heggy is meant to be writing me a mermaid play because I want to play an old mermaid. I think it’s because of the film Miranda, where a mermaid is found and taken to live in this guy’s home. Understandably, his wife is a bit put out. The mermaid tells her: “You’ve never liked me, not since I first set tail in this house.” I suppose I like mermaids because they’re neither one thing nor the other.
You've worked extensively in theatre, TV & film. What are the different skills you need for each?
They are like different jobs. The bottom line is, you have to be as truthful as you can be. But on screen, there are so many people between you and what gets seen that I feel very shifty about it. I’ve got a very mobile face and I hate myself on screen. I can’t believe people keep employing me! It’s quite good that I can’t see myself on stage.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
Out of Joint’s Macbeth at Wilton’s Music Hall. I enjoyed everything about that, it was tremendous. Macbeth is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays and I know it quite well, but this production brought out lots of new and interesting things. It was also brilliantly acted.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
If I could be an animal, a pampered cat is what I’d really like to be, being looked after by someone like me! Otherwise, I’d be Sarah Bernhardt and have a kip in her coffin. I’ve read her book on acting, and I think it would be nice to have that kind of self belief.
It tends to be whatever I’m reading at the moment. I like Carol Ann Duffy. I’m also a fan of poetry which is good to read when I’m working because you can dip in and out of it, it only requires short bursts of concentration. Jane Gardam and Stevie Davies are good. I’m also reading an academic book about Isabella the Catholic (the part Redmond plays in The Lunatic Queen), which is not much help but at least I feel I’m doing something!
Favourite holiday destination
I don’t go on holiday. I hate it, I hate the sun, packing, travelling. I’d rather go to hairdresser.
Favourite after-show haunts
I do like my dinner at Sheekey’s occasionally, but it’s the Piccadilly line to go home usually.
If you hadn't been an actor, what would you have done professionally
I really don’t know. Every so often I think, “what else could I do?”. But I’ve no other discernable talents. My sister works for Sainsbury’s so I haven’t ruled out stacking some shelves of an evening.
Why did you want to accept your part in The Lunatic Queen?
I enjoy playing people who have a different set of phobias from mine - as they say, a change is as good as a rest! When I read the play, I thought, I’d really like to see this from the inside. Isabella was a very queenly queen, the most powerful woman in world then, the Madonna of her time.
How difficult is it to play a ‘real’ character (a person who historically existed) as opposed to a fictional one?
I think it’s more relevant if that person is still alive or those who loved them are. Isabella of the play is not the same Isabella from my academic book. So really I just work from the text.
What's your favourite line from The Lunatic Queen?
When King Ferdinand disembarks in Flanders, he says: “What a terrible fucking country, I’m freezing half to death.”
What's the funniest/oddest/most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals to date of The Lunatic Queen?
Truthfully, it’s astonishing I haven’t been recast yet! There aren’t very many things as the scenes are small and we work in isolation. But Pip Donaghy (who’s playing Ferdinand) and I spend a lot of time laughing in a very immoderate way. When you do that, there’s a real danger of hyperventilating after a while, so we spend a lot of time feeling woozy!
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like someone to write me that mermaid play. As for other jobs, well, there’s plenty of places I’d like to work, but I think it’s good manners to wait till you’re asked.
- Siobhan Redmond was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
The Lunatic Queen continues at Riverside Studios until 27 March 2005.