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A Director In Search Of An Actress

Pity the poor director who raises his head above the parapet and publicly proclaims ‘Is there anyone interested in playing Nora?’

If you’ve read my previous articles about the process of staging A Doll’s House, you’ll know it’s audition time. The chosen poster used to represent the internal struggle within the protagonist’s mind...

… but now represents the director’s (Kevin Russell’s) horror as the emails began to arrive. The number soon reached 200. How do you find the Special One amongst all those? Stories abound of some producers and directors abhorring hotmail email addresses, detesting specific drama schools or, even, flinching at the names of rivals on CVs. One famous director is known for whittling the list down by deleting every third email and removing every third application from his pile.

Ask any HR Manager attempting to fill a vacancy in a company - it’s a nightmare.

So can it all be that random, relying so heavily on luck?

Ohhhh, yes.

Kevin told me that ‘it’s so silly what goes through my mind when looking at headshot after headshot. Whether they can act or not seems irrelevant. The first time acting gets involved is at the audition itself, but that seems so far away.’

He does, though, admit others skills are required. For him - and this is just Kevin, no one else (before someone complains that’s not how it’s done) - Kevin wants a clear CV, a photo that shows a certain attitude and a covering letter that indicates a little thought has gone into the application. The rest is gut instinct on his part.

Gradually, the audition list was reduced until sixteen actresses were invited to the venue, Barons Court Theatre. Then I joined him in the process. There as a guide, a shoulder to cry on and the-fella-that-reads-along-with-the-auditionees.

The pressure is on them: 1 - to turn up on time; 2 - to resemble the person in the photograph (you’d be amazed how many don’t); 3 - to enjoy themselves. We assist with the last part, aiming to create a jovial and inspirational atmosphere.

Well, I mustn’t put it off any longer. An actress has been chosen and she did say ‘Yes.’ Her name is Alexa Matthews. When asked she said, ‘I have always wanted to play the role of Nora and as soon as I saw there was an opportunity to do so I applied immediately. She's a complex character and makes such an interesting journey though the play and one that as an actor you can really challenge yourself with, this really excites me.

[Alexa Matthews - photograph by Michael Shelford]

‘The audition was lots of fun and Kevin and Paul have a way of naturally making you feeling at ease. What I loved was that Kevin directed me in some of the chosen scenes with Paul and we got it up on its feet. Auditions can be a really surreal environment but instead of sitting behind a desk Kevin and Paul were much more involved.’

Where was she when she heard she had been offered the part? ‘I had just boarded the plane to France for a friend’s wedding with my boyfriend and received the email just before taking off. I was so excited to hear the news and couldn't wait to get back to discuss the play further.’

The whole production rests on Alexa’s shoulders - so no pressure there. It’s such a famous role, it is natural to feel nervous about the months ahead. Alexa said, ‘I really hope that I do the play justice and that the audience come away feeling like they have seen a great version of the play. I hope that they are tickled with its lightness but also come away with an understanding of the fresh and relevant messages it has to convey. Importantly I hope they have a great evening out and that as a company we also have lots of fun!’

What Alexa may not realise at the moment, though, is just how many macaroons she will have to consume during the run. I think I may keep count… but more on that later.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen will be performed from November 3rd to 22nd at Barons Court Theatre, west London. Tickets are selling fast, so if you fancy stopping by call the box office direct on 020 8932 4747 or email to reserve seats.

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