Culture critic Holly Reaney interviews Dinita Gohil, making her RSC debut as Viola in their current production of Twelfth Night
Sitting, waiting for the phone to ring is always nerve wracking. Watching the clock slowly tick closer to 12:30, I sit re-reading my prepared questions and ensuring everything is ready. It rings, unknown number, I answer and am greeted by a cheery, enthusiastic voice. Dinita Gohil is currently rehearsing in Stratford-upon-Avon for the RSC’s latest production of Twelfth Night in which she plays Viola, as well as a selection of characters in A Christmas Carol. Educated at Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls, Dinita Gohil is a local Birmingham girl who has a multitude of acting credits to her name as well as a degree in French and Spanish, and now her RSC debut.
Hello, Dinita. I want to start by thanking you for taking the opportunity to speak to us today. Have you had a good morning so far?
Hello, it’s been really good, thank you. We had Sunday off, so I was back in London actually which was nice and took the day off which was great and the weather was lovely and I’ve just got back to Stratford.
There’s been over a dozen productions of Twelfth Night at the RSC over the last fifty years, so what makes yours stand out?
The decision that Chris [Christopher Luscombe, director] made to set it in the Victorian era and tie it into the Raj is really interesting and really clever, particularly the way the themes in Twelfth Night resonate with the themes within the Victorian eras and how these are brought out by the Indian influences that underpin the play.
How did you get into acting – was it something you always wanted to do?
I grew up in Birmingham and started doing school plays and what not. I really enjoyed it and went to the National Youth Theatre. Then, I studied French and Spanish at Royal Holloway in London. I love languages, I worked in translation for a couple of years before doing a three-year drama course at Guildhall in London.
So, have you acted in productions in French and Spanish?
No I haven’t, but during university I spent a bit of time out in Chile in South America and I was studying at the university there. I joined the university drama club because I thought it would be really good for my Spanish and we did put on a production whilst I was there, it was just a bit of fun really but it was really hard.
Is that something you would like to do it the future? Production in French or Spanish?
I never really thought about it, I think I’m just going to concentrate on doing it in English.
You have taken on the role of Viola in this production of Twelfth Night, do you think there’s a lot of similarities between you and her?
I’d like to think there are because she’s such a wonderful character. If I had to choose one, I think I share her sense of fun and playfulness.
In playing Viola, you get the opportunity to explore two characters, obviously Viola but also her male alter-ego of Cesario, what’s that like to perform?
It’s great to be able to play a character that has access to a completely different world. To assimilate the world of Orsino’s through Viola, you get to explore the opportunities which open up for her as Cesario and learn with her as she discovers love, but it’s also exciting as it lets her have a lot of fun. There’s also a bittersweet element to this fun though, because when Viola gets to be Cesario she gets to keep her brother alive, and can cling onto the memory of him. Her adoption of a male persona raises the stakes and makes everything more exciting and dangerous. The challenge is ensuring that Viola maintains her strong sense of self and that all her actions are true to who she is, which I think I achieve.
What’s your first memory of Shakespeare?
Probably studying it at school where we did Romeo and Juliet, but I think where it really became something of interest was when I started to see it in the theatre. I grew up in Birmingham, so Stratford wasn’t far and I remember coming to see things here. I think that’s when it started to mean something to me beyond what I was studying in the academic sense. Seeing it make sense and these incredible stories unfurl. I remember seeing David Tennant’s Hamlet at the RSC which was absolutely incredible.
This is your Royal Shakespeare Company debut, is it strange going from an audience member to a member of the company on the stage.
Yeah, especially somewhere like the RSC that I know so well as an audience member. Its somewhere I’ve always dreamed of performing whilst growing up, so to be here doing such a great role within a brilliant play is a dream come true. It still feels quite surreal, we’re only three shows in and there’s been several pinch-me moments.
How’s the show going so far?
It’s great to put it in front of an audience, you spend so long doing it in the rehearsal room and to one another and to the creatives coming in and out, then to suddenly get an audience reaction is really illuminating. Their responses really inform a lot of the moments, and in previews we have been tweaking the performance accordingly.
Any surprises from the audiences?
So many moments but that changes night to night. That’s always fascinating, how an audience as a collective responds to the play and to certain moments. I think the thing to take away from it is that it can mean different things to different people, so you get different reactions which makes live theatre so exciting.
Who is your inspiration? What made you want to get into theatre?
It’s theatre really that make me want to act, and I remember going to see great productions. The feeling that I got from going to the theatre just made me want to be a part of it. I think now I am mostly inspired by the people I work with. It’s great working on Twelfth Night with such a wonderful company of actors and being in a rehearsal room with people like Ade Edmondson and watching him create this incredible Marvolio. It’s been great.
You’ve mentioned Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet… if you could be any character in Shakespeare who would you be?.
That’s a tough one. There are so many. I’ve always loved Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, I just love her sass and wit and I think she’s just an amazing, amazing character. I remember seeing the film version with Emma Thompson when I was young, and that had a huge impact on me and I remember that would be an amazing role to tackle one day.
There’s been a lot of discussion at the moment about Shakespeare’s relevance and whether we should have a moratorium on Shakespeare. What does Shakespeare mean to you?
I think it’s incredibly relevant, these stories are so relatable and I think so many of the issues that come up in Twelfth Night really resonate with today’s society. The gender and sexual politics of the play with Olivia falling in love with someone you think is a man but is actually a woman. I think the questions that those themes raise couldn’t be more current.
So, is the sexual politics something that has been highlighted in your production?
Definitely, we’ve not shied away from the exploration of Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship is something that our director, Chris, has really looked into and cultivated.
There’s been so much in the press at the moment about the arts and entertainment industry, it’s facing a lot of challenges. From an inside perspective, if you could change one thing about the theatre industry what would it be?
I think the cuts that the arts are facing is a real travesty, it means that putting on a show is becoming so much harder and we’re seeing less new pieces of writing because people are up against it with regards to getting that vital support and funding. Also, there’s a lot of talk at the moment about 50/50 and making sure that there are enough women in theatre and that they’re fairly represented on stage, which is something that I’ve definitely seen gaining more momentum throughout my career.
What advice would you give people who are in university and want to pursue a career in acting?
Instead of getting frustrated with the industry about what’s not happening, try and be proactive about it. Get together with friends and put performances on however you can, wherever you can so that you can be seen.
What does the rest of today look like for you?
We’re in previews at the moment, so we’re going back into the theatre now to go over Saturday’s performance. We’ll make a few tweaks and put the show on tonight. We’re out of previews this Thursday (8th November).
And finally, it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you, can you leave us with your favorite line of the play?
I love it when Olivia says ‘most wonderful’ at the end, it’s a brilliant moment.
Twelfth Night runs until 24th February 2018 at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, and will be broadcast live to cinemas across the country on 14th February 2018.