Saturday, April 30, 2005

Pregnant pause for swell role

By Peggy Woodcock, Chester Chronicle

PLAYING a pregnant character on stage is not fun for anyone - especially if you are a man! But that's what Simon Scardifield has to do in A Winter's Tale which moves to the Liverpool Playhouse next week. PEGGY WOODCOCK talked to him.

ACTORS do like to prepare for a role. But few will have gone to the lengths that Simon Scardifield did prior to his appearance in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at The Lowry, Salford Quays, this week and the Liverpool Playhouse next week.

For he is playing a woman. A pregnant woman. And that's what led to him rolling cosily on the floor with several mums-to-be at a National Childbirth Trust meeting.

He said: 'I've never been pregnant - obviously! - and I needed to get an idea of what it felt like. So I had a bump, not just a cushion but something more realistic filled with birdseed and strapped to my shoulders.

'At the NCT meeting I found talking to the pregnant women a great help. I'm not a method actor but I was very aware that the audiences would be full of experts so I needed to make it as realistic as possible.'

Scardifield is one of an all-male cast for this production by the company Propeller which for the past seven years have been captivating audiences with their energetic versions of Shakespeare's greatest plays - with never a woman in sight.

He said: 'Women weren't allowed on stage in his time so Shakespeare was actually writing these women's roles for men, or youths, and often for a particular one. I had that in mind when I tackled the role.

'It has taught me a lot about being an actor. I have always thought I had to use a large amount of myself in any role but this is different. As to childbirth, it's amazing the pain women expose themselves to, and the huge responsibility afterwards.'

Scardifield has worked extensively in the theatre, notably with the Royal Shakespeare Company, English Touring Theatre, Shared Experience, and in Stephen Daldry's An Inspector Calls in the West End, and he has television and film credits ranging from Casualty to High Heels and Low Lifes.

In this, his third production with director Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter Hall and founder Propeller, he plays Hermione, queen to Leontes. It's a haunting mix of tragedy, mystery and comedy which follows events as a man wracked with inexplicable jealousy destroys family, kingdom and himself. But the chain reaction leads to a miraculous ending full of hope.

Said Scardifield: 'It's a fantastic play but not an easy one. The first half runs as a dark, fast-paced thriller while the second half is completely different, packed with knockabout comedy, but then returning to the first heavy mood.

'One of the successes of this production is to marry the two halves so the audience can see how they go together. The cast do all the music and sound effects, even lighting, so the audience can see the whole process and they seem to love it.'

He will be wearing his eight month baby bump for the production, that is, until he gives birth.

He said: 'Happily this takes place off stage! I should stress, though, that I won't be wearing a wig or shaving off my chest hair. None of us taking female roles try look or sound like women. We let the words speak for themselves, as they did in Shakespeare's day.'


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