Emily Berrington: Higher tuition fees mean actors are forced to make different choices

Berrington leads the cast in Natalie Abrahami’s revival of Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play at the north London venue

Emily Berrington
Emily Berrington
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Emily Berrington stars in the new production of Sophie Treadwell's Expressionist piece Machinal at the Almeida Theatre, directed by Natalie Abrahami (Queen Anne, Happy Days). Written in 1928, Treadwell's piece follows the lead figure of "Young Woman" (Berrington), who has to deal with a life over which she has no control as she is married, becomes a mother and juggles a career as a stenographer. Berrington's previous credits include Children's Children (also at the Almeida in 2012) and Dead Funny at the Vaudeville Theatre, and on TV she has starred in all three series of the hit TV show Humans as the android character Neska.

When I read the play I couldn't believe it was written 90 years ago. It doesn't feel like we're putting on a historical piece, and audiences won't be required to put their period drama hats on. I originally read the play without googling it and the language just felt so modern, and the scenes in it about the ways in which women suffer in a predominantly patriarchal society, that's obviously very relevant with what's going on today.

Sophie Treadwell was a pretty amazing writer and a brave journalist. She was one of the few female journalists who flew over for the First World War, and was frustrated when she wasn't allowed on the front line, due to her gender. She did loads of amazing undercover journalism too, she posed as a prostitute and did research into the charities helping sex workers in New York. So she completed flouted the expectations of the time – I wish I could meet her now and see what she thinks about the debates we're having in the present day.

I did my first ever show, Children's Children at the Almeida. So it's been almost like coming home! I'm also part of the 50/50 campaign [an organisation that campaigns for gender parity within casts and creative teams], and it's been great to see the theatre put into action the ideas that the campaign promotes, both on stage and off, over the course of this year. I saw The Writer last week and it was fascinating, as it really questioned what theatre means and what a writer's voice can do.

Berrington alongside John Macmillan in Children's Children at the Almeida
Berrington alongside John Macmillan in Children's Children at the Almeida in 2012
© Johan Persson

I think young actors have to make very different choices nowadays. I studied Geography at university but coming out the other end I still wasn't sure what I was doing, I worked for a Labour MP for a little while before deciding to go to Guildhall to train. It allowed me to completely blow apart what I thought becoming an actor might be like over the space of three years. But with tuition fees as high as they are now, the game has changed. I don't think I'd be able to make the same decisions I did back when I was 18. There's a lot more pressure – though it's worth saying there's never one way to do anything

I'd love to play Hedda Gabler at some point. I did it once for GCSE Drama and want to try it again. Hedda shares a lot with my character in Machinal, but I really want to do some classic work, either Shakespeare or Chekhov. I love the enormity of the themes in those plays, the stakes are so high and everything is experienced so keenly.