Letting her hair down
Award-winning actress Jessica Hardwick talks to Mark Brown about playing Rapunzel at her beloved Citizens Theatre
When I meet Jessica Hardwick at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, I have to do a double take. I’ve known the acclaimed young actress for many years, having taught her and her student actor colleagues when she was an extremely promising undergraduate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I should be able to recognise her anywhere. Not today, however. Today her trademark flowing, dark blonde locks are wrapped up in a tousled red wig.
She is in the midst of rehearsals for the Gorbals playhouse’s Christmas show, Rapunzel, in which she plays the titular lead. As the wig suggests, the Citz’s festive audiences are not about to be given a sanitised or Disneyfied version of the centuries-old fairytale of the girl locked in the tower by a witch.
“It’s the complete opposite of a girly Rapunzel”, Hardwick explains, with obvious pleasure. “It’s not sickly sweet, it’s for boys and girls.
“I spend most of the time in the show with my hair cut off and dressed as a wee boy. There’s something really tomboyish about it. My character is very quirky and feisty.”
The production is staged for the Citizens by experienced director Lu Kemp, using an adaptation by Annie Siddons which, in turn, is based on the famous version of the tale by the Brothers Grimm. Hardwick is delighted to be working with Siddons’s script. “I knew the Grimm Brothers’ version as a child”, she says.
“Our play is based on that, so it’s quite dark in places. That makes the lighter, more loving moments stand out. It’s a show of real contrasts.
“There’s something really satisfying in having that dark element in the story”, she continues. “It’s fun for children, too.
“I remember as a child reading the Grimms’ Cinderella. The ugly sisters cut their toes off to get their feet in the glass slipper.
“That’s fun, it’s more exciting. It makes characters more interesting when there’s a bit of danger in there.”
In fact, Hardwick’s enthusiasm for the show, which is delightfully abundant, extends to every aspect of the production. The original music, which is played live on stage, is “cool”, she says. “It’s kind of folk-rocky, and it’s got a grungy aspect to it.”
The set, costume and puppet designs are great, too, she tells me. “It’s a typical Citz show. The set is very bare to start off with, then everything starts to grow and feed into it.”
The flourishing of a garden around young Rapunzel could be a metaphor for Hardwick’s career in recent years. She was the richly deserved recipient of a 2014 Billy Award, given to young actors by playwright and painter John Byrne in memory of the late Billy McColl.
That accolade came shortly after her superb performance as Sonya in Citizens director Dominic Hill’s unforgettable production of Crime And Punishment. Other roles include Mathilde, the long-suffering, young wife of the poet Paul Verlaine, in Pamela Carter’s play Slope, and Rima, beloved of the eponymous anti-hero in the recent Citz/Edinburgh International Festival staging of Alasdair Gray’s epic novel Lanark.
Every one of these excellent performances has a common denominator. They have all been performed at the Citz. “I feel so lucky, I feel so grateful to this theatre”, says Hardwick, with typical modesty.
The extraordinary history of the theatre supports actors, rather than intimidating them, she explains. Likewise its socially diverse audience.
“I feel like I’m in a deep love affair with the Citz”, she says, laughing. And then she’s gone, back onto the Citz’s stage to become the most willing of captives.
Rapunzel runs at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until January 3: citz.co.uk
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 29, 2015
© Mark Brown