Downton Abbey's Lady Edith becomes a West End girl in theatre debut
07:28 GMT, 31 August 2012
West End girl: Laura Carmichael will star as the resilient Sonya in an adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya
Laura Carmichael will move from the great house of Downton Abbey to a dilapidated Chekhovian dacha when she makes her West End theatre debut.
The actress, who plays Lady Edith in Downton, will explore the ever-so-plain but resilient Sonya in Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.
The ensemble cast will be led by Ken Stott, in the title role, with Anna Friel as the glamorous Yelena and Samuel West playing the tortured physician Astrov.
Sonya wants Astrov, but Astrov wants only the married Yelena. Laura told me she’s impressed by the ‘incredible resilience’ shown by Sonya ‘when she goes after Astrov and is rebuffed’.
‘There are funny moments in her attempts with Astrov,’ Laura says. ‘She tries to get his attention and she can’t see that she’s not getting through to him. But she carries on anyway.’
Rehearsals with director Lindsay Posner start on September 17 and the first Uncle Vanya preview will be on October 25 at the Vaudeville Theatre, with an official first night on November 2.
‘I’m terrified and excited,’ the actress confessed. ‘I think you have to be a bit scared. There’d be something wrong with you if you weren’t. I’m telling myself it’s perfectly normal to be terrified.’
Laura studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, worked with Thea Sharrock on David Hare’s play Plenty at Sheffield’s Crucible, and moved to London from her native Southampton five years ago.
She lived in what she termed ‘the hilarious cliche of a first London flat’. Laura said: ‘It was three actors sharing with cockroaches.’ She has since moved.
Kim Poster, who’s producing the play with Nica Burns, Robert Bartner and Max Weitzenhoffer, said Laura’s audition ‘blew us away’. ‘She was emotionally powerful, and poignant — no easy feat. It was also clear that she passionately wanted to do this.’
Ms Poster said the producers and casting director ‘moved heaven and earth’ to ensure Laura would be available to work during the day on a fourth series of Downton Abbey, should it get the go ahead, as it surely will.
TV star: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith in the third series of Downton Abbey set in 1920
In the third series, which starts on September 16 on ITV1, the show’s creator Julian Fellowes gives Lady Edith a ‘big journey’.
‘She carries on what happened in the war: women working,’ Laura told me. ‘There’s a new independence for the ladies. They can’t go back to planning balls and dinner parties.’
Robert Bathurst’s Sir Anthony Strallan is also back on the scene. ‘Edith’s trying to twist his one good arm. It’s not an alluring, clever flirtation on her part. What she does is pretty bold.’
And so is this actress.
Great Expectations for new movie adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic novel
Mike Newell’s new, big-screen version of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is a very grown-up version of the classic novel, with no sugar coating.
Striking: Holliday Grainger stars as Estella in a film adaptation of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations
Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, and Helena Bonham Carter, as Miss Havisham, are both sublime as they mould Pip and Estella in a dark, Pygmalion manner.
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‘Both those kids are under the thumb of these mad, twisted adults,’ Newell told me. ‘They’ve damaged them in the most horrendous way.’
Newell recalled reading a New Yorker article which called Pip ‘a little s***’.
Jeremy Irvine, who plays him, invests the character with such a sheen of arrogance that he is just that. ‘Pip has been so screwed up and manipulated,’ the director explained. ‘Here’s a boy who was whipped by his sister — and we show that.
‘He grows up to become treacherous and cruel — and we understand that.’ With his cinematographer John Mathieson, Newell has created a London that is ‘a city full of danger’.
‘There’s blood on the streets of London,’ he said. ‘The Old Bailey is right next to Smithfield market, so we hired a great deal of raw meat, carcasses of beef, pigs heads and liver . . . there’s a lot of blood and guts.’
It’s a movie packed with bewitching atmosphere, and some beguiling performances. I was particularly struck by Holliday Grainger as Estella.
Quick as a flash, Newell said: ‘Manchester girl — there’s something very open about Manchester girls. She’s glorious looking, and sensual.’ No wonder Pip couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Great Expectations closes the BFI London Film Festival on October 21 at the Odeon Leicester Square and is also being shown at the Toronto International Film festival next month.
Bride to be: Bonham Carter as a young Miss Havisham in Great Expectations