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Charity Wakefield: I don't feel like playing Shakespeare is hallowed ground

The actress on her latest role in a feminist new play about a remarkable little-known Elizabethan poet Emilia Bassano

Charity Wakefield
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Currently playing William Shakespeare, as well as two other characters, in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's hit new play about Emilia Bassano at Shakespeare's Globe, Charity Wakefield is known for her roles in TV's Wolf Hall and more recently The Halcyon. She has previously starred in The Graduate as Elaine at the New Vic and in the tour of W Somerset Maugham's The Circle at Chichester Festival Theatre. Here she tells us what it's like starring at the Globe as the Bard himself.

I'm the first female to play William Shakespeare at Shakespeare's Globe. I'm a fan of the TV series Upstart Crow, which is all about his home life, and that has helped me to realise I can own the character and do what I like with it, rather than him feeling hallowed ground. I'm honoured to have done it. But Emilia is very much a story told from Emilia Bassano's point of view.

It's not known whether Emilia Bassano was the ‘dark lady' of Shakespeare's sonnets, but I think he must have known her. She was a poet and came from an extremely musical family. Her father and his brothers were in a court band that was brought over from Venice by Henry VIII. There's a lot of debate about where she was from, but there's evidence that she was Jewish and that she was of north African descent. She had lots of lovers and Emilia is the most used name in Shakespeare's canon.

Charity Wakefield as Shakespeare
© Helen Murray 2018

It's likely that Shakespeare wasn't a good family man at all. He didn't have the time to be up in Stratford-upon-Avon. He never paid his parish fees, he used to doss a lot in the church in between digs. He was absolutely living life to the full in court with kings and queens.

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm has very much written a play about what is happening in terms of gender equality. She's captured something about women being able to publicly tell their stories, even when those stories aren't pretty ones. Ever since I've known her Morgan has written brave work and this is an example of that. Tonally it's quite complex, at times it feels quite One Man, Two Guvnors: I'm always running backstage to do a costume change and get into another wig or moustache.

I used to do the tour at the Globe for the school kids, so I knew about how, with the light, the actors can see all the audience's faces. But I was unprepared for how that affects your own performance and feelings during this show. Performing at the theatre has been one of the best experiences of my life.