Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream a favourite?
“I did it at drama school which was umpteen years ago playing Hermia and I’ve only seen it a couple of times since. I’ve always veered away from fairies prancing around stage wafting their arms! But I went to see the director Natalie, who I’ve worked with before so I felt I could be open with her, and said if you want a wafty Titania that’s not me. She said that was great. But I do find myself leaping and dancing and singing around stage now. Maybe it’s just the play. It must be a wafty play!”
But this version is not traditional?
“No, it’s about the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which was just the biggest love. They couldn’t stop rowing, but they were head over heels. There’s definite parallels with the original, but it’s based on a film set. On a film set, somebody will say I want London and they’ll have London by tomorrow morning. Film sets make dreams happen.”
You are playing both Hippolyta and Titania. How much of a challenge are the dual roles?
“I think it’s like being another part of the same person. When I’m Hippolyta, her and Theseus are quite tactile with each other, but Titania and Oberon’s relationship seems to be a bit more fragile with an insecurity and neediness.”
You’ve had a career full of interesting and diverse roles on stage and TV. Have you made a conscious decision to sporadically return to Shakespeare?
“I wasn’t particularly hankering after it, but I thought last year I’m ready to go back now. I think that has come with my age and turning 40. In Shakespeare plays, there’s a lot of good roles for young girls, then there’s not much for a while in your early 30s, then you get to play the mothers. I didn’t go looking for Shakespeare, but when I was offered this role I was really keen. At the end of the day, I’m an actress, it’s how I earn my living. I’m really lucky that I’ve done some really interesting work. I’m not that particular. It’s not a careful worked out plan, but I’ve been lucky.”
Are there any roles you covet?
“I don’t think there are. I don’t have any yearning to unleash my Lady Macbeth! I know that’s one lots of people do have. I like working and I keep working, that’s pretty much it.”
How do you juggle touring with family life?
“Like everyone else, we find a way. It’s work and that sometimes means going away from home. My eldest boy was 11 last week and it was the first time I’d missed his birthday, but he was very understanding about it. For many years I wouldn’t go away from them, but as they’ve got older I have. I think it’s quite good for them to know that mums work and dads look after children!”
You come from a bit of a theatrical family. What are family occasions like?
“My sisters have both gone away from acting now and family get togethers are pretty quiet. There’s no reciting sonnets or anything like that. My Dad was always the one doing funny voices and walks and I think I got my acting ability from him. My Mum would take us to the theatre all the time when we were young, but I got my comedic timing form my Dad.
What’s the ideal way to spend a day off?
“There is no such thing when you’re a mother! But while I’m away on tour, it will give me the opportunity to read. I’ve got a great stack of books next to my bed. I have been doing research so I have the biography of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but the one I’m looking forward to reading next is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.”
• Emily appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Nuffield until Saturday February 19. For tickets, call 023 8067 1771 or visit nuffieldtheatre.co.uk.