Victoria Hamilton talks Chekovian Brexit, Doctor Foster and playing the Queen Mum
- Credit: Archant
Mike Bartlett’s marital break-up thriller Doctor Foster has had the nation gripped these past weeks. Actress Victoria Hamilton tells Bridget Galton that his latest work is a Chekhovian play probing British identity in the wake of the Brexit vote
“People keep asking ‘how’s that Brexit play going?’ says Victoria Hamilton.
“But what’s fascinating is we are making something much richer and funnier than that,”
Set – where else? - in an English country garden, Albion runs at Islington’s Almeida theatre and is penned by Mike Bartlett, one of Britain’s most in demand writers after hits such as Doctor Foster and monarchy drama Charles III.
He has now turned to a Brexit-influenced state-of-the-nation play which interrogates British identity and stars Hamilton whom Dr Foster fans will know as wine-slurping neighbour Anna, and fans of Netflix hit The Crown will recognise as the Queen mum.
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While the background is the EU referendum, Hamilton says Bartlett is “far too clever” to signpost the politics.
“It won’t be what they expect. We honestly feel we are doing a Chekhov play with an incredibly rich canvas of characters, who come in and out of this garden and affect each other’s lives.”
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Hamilton characterises Chekhovian drama as “seeing an array of characters interact with each other. Nothing happens, but everything happens, and then the world falls apart.”
She plays a successful London businesswoman who buys a big country pile after her soldier son dies.
Issues around monarchy, a sentimental nostalgia for the land, and a certain kind of English identity play out in a derelict garden that she is bringing back to its former glory.
“It’s a big country house which she remembers visiting as a child,” says Hamilton. “It has a famous garden that was the model for all English gardens and has been left to rack and ruin. She’s obsessed with bringing it back.”
Through the characters who come and go, Bartlett explores what it is to be British today.
“We are making an incredibly personalised family drama with real emotional bite. There are obviously politics running through it, but you won’t feel you are watching a political play. It’s about how we feel about our identity in the political climate, the surprising effect that has had on some people. That sense that something about being British is changing, of sand shifting beneath us, runs through the play. Mike captures a moment,he asks questions, reflects broader themes and the clash of two worlds in a way that touches on pretty much every reason for leaving or for staying. But he doesn’t comes down on one side or another.”
Hamilton who says all her best parts have come from theatre, is enjoying playing a role that’s never been done before.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” says the actress who previously appeared in Bartlett’s Love Love Love at The Royal Court “He writes the most phenomenal characters for women. Like Doctor Foster, she was like Medea! After the first series we thought how do you top that? But he did it. He’s brilliant at writing those imploding worlds and deeply complicated relationships that are toxic but people can’t escape from. Many people relate to being betrayed - even if you haven’t taken it to that degree - but the characters are so true and clear you believe them.”
Having played both Queen Victoria and the Queen Mum she jokes that she’s “completely cornered the market in playing women 20 years older than me. By the time I get to 60 I’ll have missed out on 20 years of my career”.
But the Wimbledon-born actress adds that she feels fortunate to reach her mid-40s “just at a time when it’s fashionable to put middle-aged women in strong roles.”
“People are recognising that there is power and depth to be found in these performances and they are writing stronger parts for women of a certain age. There’s a zeitgeist. TV is having a golden age and parts for women are suddenly exploding, I feel very lucky.”
Albion is at The Almeida until November 24. almeida.co.uk