Caitlin Dickinson enjoys a first-class and innovative performance of 'The Gondoliers' by Gilbert and Sullivan societyWritten by Caitlin Dickinson on 12th June 2018
Interview: Mariah Gale as Wendy in ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’ at the RSC
Culture Critic Nisha Vaidya chats with Mariah Gale, UoB alumna currently starring in the RSC's production of 'Wendy and Peter Pan'.
Mariah Gale is a University of Birmingham alumna stage actress who has been in many RSC shows, including, notably, her portrayal of Ophelia alongside David Tennant in Hamlet, who she describes as ‘very nice and very respectful’. This winter, she will be starring as Wendy in Wendy and Peter Pan, and I had a chat with her about her experience at Birmingham University, how it shaped her career, and what to expect from Wendy and Peter Pan.
You’re UoB alumna; what do you miss most about being at university, and have you been back to visit since graduating?
That’s a good question! The great thing is that I’ve stayed friends with some wonderful people who I met at university, which is pretty amazing because I graduated quite a long time ago. When I initially came up on the train and arrived in my halls of residence, I was really feeling a bit scared and shy, and there was a knock on the door and it was my flatmate Jess, who said ‘I’m feeling scared, could I come in?’ Now, I’ve just become god-mother to her son. We’re still really good friends and I see her all the time, so I feel like I have the luxury of not having to miss the best bit of university and I’m sure that that happens to a lot of people; you make great friends and they stay with you for life.
Did you get involved in theatre while you were at Birmingham?
I certainly did… I probably shouldn’t say this in a UoB publication, but I handed in a few essays late because of plays! I almost got involved with too much, but I had such a good time and I read so many plays just out of curiosity. I’d always been quite studious at school, but I always felt like I was learning to get good grades, or to please my parents. And then when I came to Birmingham it was the first time in my life where I found my independence in so many different aspects, and one of the great discoveries was I realised that I wanted to learn just for my own personal development. I remember reading Julius Caesar just because I hadn’t read it and I thought ‘I don’t really understand what this whole Shakespeare thing is about’ and I remember coming to the RSC because it’s not very far and another friend had a car. We went to the Swan Theatre, which is the smaller RSC theatre and it’s really beautiful and very atmospheric. We then went to the Dirty Duck which is the actors’ hangout afterwards and I couldn’t believe that I was talking to real-life actors, and the rest is history.
What would you say to any current Birmingham students who want to follow in your footsteps and become a successful stage actor?
I auditioned for drama school when I left Birmingham. I felt like I wanted to have more vocational training. I went to uni to have that whole experience and I wanted to gain independence, and I felt like the course itself expanded my mind but I wanted to do something more practical. You can do that by doing a lot of theatre outside but I would say that a good way into the profession is to go to a fairly well-known drama school, as they have showcases and a string of performances where agents and casting directors will come to watch. That’s how I got my agent and my agent is how I got my auditions…you can absolutely do it without drama school and some Birmingham alumni have done exactly that, but I personally felt like I didn’t have any contacts in that world and I felt like I needed more confidence. But some people are ready so it’s different for everyone, really.
Does the storyline of Wendy and Peter Pan differ from the Peter Pan we’re used to from Disney?
Very much so. I really liked this version, and it almost feels like it’s not a version of Peter Pan: it’s a departure. We’ve almost used that as a springboard and it’s told much more from Wendy’s perspective than it is from Peter’s, and I think Ella Hickson who wrote this version was saying she read Peter Pan and went ‘hey, there are holes in this!’
She’s not made Wendy into a passive onlooker, and it’s almost about her journey going from somebody who wants to play all the games that the boys are playing and isn’t accepted, and goes to Neverland and realises that even if she isn’t going to be accepted, she’s gonna strike out on her own and find her own courage and her own version of bravery, and it’s very wonderful for me to get to play that part because she’s a heroine of 2015, and that’s very different to the perspective on female narratives in 1908. I think she has really modernised it in its attitudes, but retained the magic and the wonder of the original very poignant story.
You’ve taken over this role after it’s been reprised from a very successful 2013 production. How have you found the experience of putting your stamp on Wendy?
Well, the original fantastic actress Fiona Button was due to play again and got halfway through productions until she had an outside work injury and that’s really sad as an actor, so I came in at quite short notice. I just finished a show on Saturday night and then had a call on Sunday morning. I did see her in the 2013 production and she was absolutely brilliant, so a hard act to follow to be honest. However, Wendy has this scene where she says to two girls in the show that she really admires ‘I’d really love to be like you but I realise that I am not like you’ and then she finds where her own strengths and attributes lie and that’s a great message. Especially if you’re doing a revival of something, it’s very tempting to ask ‘how do I emulate and step into those shoes?’, ‘how do I live up to that great performance?’ and a bit like Wendy, you have to think well, that was wonderful, but maybe I will be worth presenting to the world as well, so it’s definitely challenging! It’s a very big part and it’s got two sword fights, two dances, one circus trick (which is a surprise!) but the part is not for the faint hearted and you cannot be afraid of heights. So there were a lot of fears I had to confront to pull it off, and lots of lines to learn and not much time to learn them, so I feel a sort of kinship with Wendy because my journey has been quite similar to hers.
What sort of person is going to love this show?
Anybody free-thinking. Anyone who has ever lost anyone, and had to work through how to deal with that. Anybody with a rich imagination, any grown-ups who still wanna climb trees, anyone who feels like they don’t fit in. Anyone who tries to disguise the fact the fact that they’re actually really silly and a child inside…everyone! Basically everyone.
What three words would you use to describe Wendy and Peter Pan?
Wendy and Peter Pan is showing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 31st January 2016. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/