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Harry Potter and Killing Eve star directing show at Norwich Theatre Royal

PUBLISHED: 16:53 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:02 07 November 2018

Cendrillon rehearsal, directed by Fiona Shaw, Glyndebourne Tour 2018 Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

Cendrillon rehearsal, directed by Fiona Shaw, Glyndebourne Tour 2018 Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

©Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

John Bultitude chats to actress and director Fiona Shaw as she brings Glyndebourne’s Cinderella to the Norwich Theatre Royal.

Glyndebourne - CendrillonGlyndebourne - Cendrillon

Fiona is best known for her role as Harry Potter’s auntie Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films and she recently starred as head of the Russian MI6 Carolyn Martens in the hit BBC drama Killing Eve.

The operatic fairytale follows sweet-natured Cendrillon who lives the life of a servant at the home of her downtrodden father and cruel stepmother, teased and tormented by her two foolish stepsisters.

Why do you think fairy tales continue to hold so much fascination for us?

They are stories that have lost almost all of their detail and you’re left with just the essence.

Fundamentally, I think fairy stories help explain the mystery of growing up to children and help adults remember the mystery of what it was to be a child. They work for both generations, and the transition between them. Even though the drawings in the book often seem old fashioned, which makes them slightly alien, they are actually about all of us, all of the time.

Everyone knows the Cinderella story but they may not be familiar with this operatic version by the French composer Jules Massenet. Are there any differences in this version?

He actually tells a straight-forward story and the music is full of brio and full of the excitement, and indeed some of the experiment, of what it is to be in the fairy world. The fairy world is a challenge to conjure because we are just humans, so we have to try to create it out of our dreams. Massenet does that beautifully through his music. Our job is to make the story detailed so that a modern audience can enjoy identifying with the people in it.

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Can the audience expect any further surprises in your take on the story?

Glyndebourne - CendrillonGlyndebourne - Cendrillon

Theatre should be always full of some surprises. It’s full of magic and we’ve had great fun trying to find that magic or make things happen in an exciting way.

There is also the fact that it features two female singers (both Cinderella and Prince Charming are written to be performed by women), which in 1892 would have been an absolutely formulaic way of avoiding anything to do with the consequences of having a male and female singing with such passion. It’s a way of toning down the genders and making things unreal. Now perhaps one sees that two women leading an evening carries quite a different sensibility. We haven’t fought the female version of the Prince at all; we haven’t assumed the audience would think it was a boy, but rather that Cendrillon invents this sort of female boy for herself.

This production could be a good first opera for people since they will certainly know the story. What was your own introduction to opera?

My own introduction was quite by chance. It was my confirmation, aged nine, and my mother took me to see the film of Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni as a treat. The treat was for her! But I did love it. I thought it was amazing. My mother was a pianist and singer of arias at home so I really learned about opera through my mother’s singing, through performances in the drawing room.

Opera is sometimes seen as out of touch or inaccessible - what do you think can be done to tackle that?

The way in which we present it has got to be more suited to a younger generation. It mustn’t in any way patronise them. I think high dress does exist for young people and they should be allowed to wear whatever they wish. Ticket prices should be affordable. Part of opera’s elitism is its expense, and part of its expense is that it involves live players – all of this is fair enough. It should be the same price as a Beyonce concert. Expensive, great fun, exciting and a treat!

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As well as directing, you act across theatre, film and television (We have just seen you in Killing Eve on BBC1). How do you balance the different aspects of your career?

Glyndebourne - CendrillonGlyndebourne - Cendrillon

It’s a bit like being a doctor and a patient at the same time! In Killing Eve, I play the head of the Russian desk at MI6 and that involves restraint. And then it’s absolutely refreshing to come to the opera where there’s a scale of feeling that is released. Much about modern television is about the lack of release, about the hidden, seeming banality of people’s minds, when in fact we’re all cauldrons of passion underneath. Opera has always been the overt expression of that and film is absolutely the opposite, so I have enjoyed inhabiting both planets. But they are different planets.

Glyndebourne (Cinderella) is at Norwich Theatre Royal on November 14 and 17.

Glyndebourne also perform La Traviata on November 13 an 16 with a Behind The Curtain event on November 15.

You can purchase tickets online by phone on 01603 630000 or at the box office.

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