Laura Elphinstone is best known for starring on some of the most successful television programmes in recent years – Line of Duty, Game of Thrones and Chernobyl to name a few. This winter however she is taking on a very different task, starring as the White Witch in Sally Cookson's new production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
We caught up with Laura in rehearsals for the show to chat about the importance of CS Lewis' iconic tale and how theatre could make itself more family friendly.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will play at the Bridge Theatre, London from 9 November to 2 February, with a press night on 18 November – book your tickets now!
How does it feel taking on one of the most iconic roles in the literary canon?
Well this question makes me feel very nervous! I suppose I can't think of it as being a hugely iconic role because if I did, I think I'd run for the hills screaming. In all seriousness it's a joy to play someone who is so self-absorbed, egotistical and when the occasion presents itself psychopathic. It's also quite tiring to be that tightly wound up about everything. I think Jadis (the white witch) could benefit from a day in a spa.
What have rehearsals been like – reuniting with Sally Cookson?
Ahhh the lovely Sally Cookson, it's been a couple of years since we've worked together, and I'd slightly forgotten how intense and full on making a show with her is. Sally is a brilliant director to work with, always interested in what the actor can bring to the piece rather than having set views on how the characters or indeed the storytelling should be. It's an extremely collaborative process and it's a joy to be surrounded by such a talented team such as Dan Canham – our movement director – and Benji Bower – our composer. Even if it's knackering, it's a room I'm always happy to be in.
Why does CS Lewis' book lend itself so naturally to the stage?
I suppose it's the epic nature of his stories, they travel through different worlds and you meet brilliantly diverse characters. Once you've overcome the challenge of realising it, it can make for a thrilling night at the theatre.
Do you have a favourite sequence from the book that is a joy to bring to life?
Stomping around being a mean witch is pretty cool, but I do have a favourite bit I like to watch. Sally's work is always visually stunning, there is a train journey at the beginning of the play which is barely a sentence in the book. The ensemble is a massive part of this show and their work during this scene is truly beautiful. When I first saw the scene in the rehearsal room, even without lights or costume, I was clapping my hands with pure joy.
The show has transferred from Leeds (formerly West Yorkshire) Playhouse – a venue you've worked at before. How important is that relationship between venues in the capital and across the country?
I think it's so important that good theatre isn't just London-centric. I think maintaining relationships between venues is an integral part of making theatre accessible to as many different people as possible.
Considering it was written so long ago, why do the book and the play resonate so much with the present day?
I don't think as humans we are ever going stop wanting to hear and see great stories be told. At least I hope not, as that'll be me out of a job! I believe that a brilliant adventure such as this, with fauns, lions, witches and wardrobes, is timeless.
Such a family-friendly title is likely to draw audiences of all ages – what more do you think the theatre industry can do to bring in new generations of punters?
This really is a show for all ages and it's exciting to think that different generations of the same family can have a collective great night out. In terms of what the industry can do to bring in new generations of theatre goers, I think it's producing plays like this which challenge but don't patronise younger audience members. Also making a trip to the theatre a more affordable experience for all would help that too!