Shannon Tarbet: 'Being in a solo show is terrifying but extremely exciting'

The rising star actress, 22, is currently starring in one-woman play ”The Edge of Our Bodies” at the Gate Theatre, which features as part of the venue’s 35th anniversary celebrations

Shannon Tarbet in The Edge of Our Bodies
Shannon Tarbet in The Edge of Our Bodies
© Iona Firouzabadi

Can you tell us a little bit about The Edge of Our Bodies?
It’s a show about a young girl, Bernadette, who thinks she has the world figured out but she realizes the world is bigger than she originally thought. She’s 16 and pregnant, her boyfriend doesn’t know and neither do her parents, who are distracted by their own marital issues, so I suppose it can be described as a coming-of-age play.

What’s it like being in a one-woman show?
Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. Chris [Haydon], the director, has been really great throughout, he has held my hand the whole way. This is my first experience of a proper one-woman show with a stint in a theatre so it’s very scary because you are the only actor in the room and all the attention is on you – it is terrifying but also extremely exciting.

What initially drew you to the production?
I liked the script originally, and I did a reading for Chris of the play last year. We were both getting excited by it and what could be done with the script. Adam Rapp, who wrote it, is extraordinary. I used to say that I didn’t really like solo shows because it takes a lot to hold an audience’s attention. I realise now I was very naïve in saying that, because since reading it and seeing other shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, I realise that they can hold an audience and when you get it right, it’s piercing and pretty scary sometimes.

How is this rehearsal process different than other shows?
It’s different in many ways, even in little things like scheduling. You’re the one that’s in rehearsal every day from 10 to 6. It’s been a bit of a tour de force for me in that way, being in there every day and being the only actor being concentrated on.

Do you find yourself identifying with Bernadette at all?
I do. She is a storyteller and writer, so I do in that sense. She likes to perform, and revels in writing and she is quite creative. The actual experiences she goes through in the play I haven’t gone through – she has a pregnancy, her parents go through difficulties. But I certainly aspire to her strength at the end.

Shannon Tarbet in The Edge of Our Bodies
Shannon Tarbet in The Edge of Our Bodies
© Iona Firouzabadi

What’s it like being part of the Gate’s 35th anniversary season?
It’s pretty cool. I think I’ll be involved in some of the celebrations – Chris hinted towards some of the post-show discussions and things like that and I told him ‘Oh gosh I’m so terrible at those!’.

You tend to work a lot in smaller venues – what draws you to those?
Mainly I work on scripts that I enjoy. The venue does sometimes come into play but it’s more about the plays and characters that I enjoy most. It has taken me to work at various off-West End theatres. I then sometimes choose to return to a venue because I enjoyed my experience: there are certain theatres with just a great team behind them. So it hasn’t been a conscious choice but I do have my favourite theatres.

Was theatre your first love?
Yes, absolutely. I have been acting for four years now, and I think theatre is what’s been establishing me and I enjoy it so much. Working on stage gives me a different feeling to any other acting form. I love watching it, talking about it, reading about it, making it, so I guess it is my first love.

Did you start acting straight after college?
I left college and I got quite lucky because I auditioned for a Royal Court show and managed to get that. That’s when I wanted to be an actor but had no idea how to start acting; I was working in telesales trying to save money to audition for drama school. But then I had my Royal Court audition, and started my career.

Do you think not going to drama school made a difference?
I have no idea. There are pros and cons between going and not going to drama school. There are probably things which I haven’t learned yet, but I’m sure as my career goes on, I will pick them up from people I work with who have gone to drama school. Also I find it invigorating being able to learn on the job and work with my favourite actors and see how they work and bring their methods on board.

What’s next?
I am involved in a new BBC drama which I can't say much about at the moment but I'm very excited for!