Interview: Emma Bentley, To She Or Not To She

One of the first shows I reviewed for LondonTheatre1 was a scratch night at Morley College. The five companies performing were all preparing their work for Edinburgh, and competing for rehearsal space and the opportunity to return to Morley for a full-length performance before heading to Scotland.

My personal favourite – and the ultimate winner – was a one-woman show by Emma Bentley of Joue le Genre, called To She Or Not To She, about the challenges faced by women in the acting industry.

After a successful run in Edinburgh, Joue le Genre are now preparing to bring To She Or Not To She to Evolution at the Lyric Hammersmith on 23rd January. I was really excited to see it’s coming back down south, and got in touch with Emma, who was lovely enough to talk to me about the show. Thanks Emma! 🙂

What inspired you to write To She Or Not To She?

Both me and Holly Robinson, who co-wrote the show and directed the Edinburgh version, wanted to stick the finger up to casting directors/writers/directors putting women in shit roles. And in doing so write something ourselves where we could reclaim this exciting idea of getting to do whatever you want and not being judged for it.

Shakespeare at drama school had been a really wonderful experience because I had got to play a load of men: Feste in Twelfth Night and Angelo in Comedy of Errors. Not the big dogs like Macbeth or Richard III or anything but it was good fun. And with Feste in particular, it was refreshing to play a character whose relationship with the other characters in the play was not focused on romance and/or sex. I wanted to continue playing roles like this and exploring Shakepeare’s men. Luckily I started doing some work with Smooth Faced Gentlemen, the all female Shakespeare company based at the Greenwich Theatre, so I did get to play a murderer in Macbeth. Working with SFG made me want to write it even more.

Sophie Wu is Minging She Looks like She’s Dead and La Merda, both at Soho Theatre, were two shows that inspired the style of the show for me.

And then one of my teachers from LIPA, Gillian Lemon would always say, ‘What are you gonna do Emma? Just sit around on your arse waiting for the phone to ring? You’ve got to make your own work!’ So I had her very stern Northern Irish voice egging me on too.

Can you sum up the show in one sentence?

Shakespeare’s biggest fangirl falls in and out of love with the Bard and the acting industry, whilst growing into a young woman of no fame or fortune (yet) but some comedy potential.

To She Or Not To She, Joue le Genre

You’re playing yourself – how close is show Emma to real Emma?

I’ve been working quite a bit on distinguishing the different Emmas within the show with Katharina Reinthaller, who is directing the show for its Lyric reincarnation. There are four different Emmas in total, you meet her (me) at 14,19, 23 and then there is also ‘Show Emma’, which is me on stage right now talking to the audience, trying to be as honest as possible.

The other Emmas are a bit of twist on the truth. I like to think 14-year-old Emma is a little more embarrassing than me actually as a teenager but I’m sure my friends would beg to differ.

Emma at drama school is probably a little more hopeful and bouncy than I really was at LIPA, I feel like I took everything quite seriously.

How has the show developed since you first wrote it?

The show has gone through 10,289 drafts. Or something like that. It’s changed a lot. Even in the last few days there are things where we say, do we really need this? And that’s just script wise, then there are lots of physical and spacial changes that we decide on with every rehearsal. The cynical voice of ‘Show Emma’ has definitely manifested herself a little more for this run of the show. And because we’re in a bigger space than Edinburgh at the Lyric there is more physicality to it. I’m going to push over a chair whilst standing on it at one point which I’m very excited about – I get to have my Frantic Assembly moment.

Has it taken any unexpected directions?

Originally I thought the show was going to be me playing a variety of Shakespeare’s men. Then, one day when I was showing Holly a scene for a scratch night I had written, where I played Hamlet on a tinder date (which sounded hilarious to me), she said to me why don’t we just write a play about you? Why don’t we write your story so far of wanting to play Shakespeare’s men? Then you can play a load of men, but also a load of women and yourself. With some made up bits of course to make it more Shakespearean. I’m not a very private person anyway, so I didn’t find it shocking or anything writing my story to share, but I guess I just never thought of it being dramatic. It turns out stick a few gags in and a bit of lighting and you’ve got a show.

What’s been the highlight so far?

In Edinburgh there was a girl who came to see the show, who sat on the front row and who had come up to do a production of Comedy of Errors. In the preshow I played Shakespeare Top Trumps with someone from the audience, so I spotted her and asked, ‘do you wanna play Shakespeare Top Trumps with me?’ She looked at me and was just like ‘YEAH’. That was a good show.

Aaaand getting to be a part of Evolution at the Lyric. I used to work in the café. Now I’m getting to perform my play there. I like the old-fashionedness of it – a feeling of working your way up by getting to know people. Makes you feel part of a theatre family somewhere.

And finally… if you could play any Shakespeare role, which one would it be?

Hammmm ….

Catch To She Or Not To She at the Lyric Hammersmith on Saturday 23rd January at 8.45pm.

@tosheornottoshe
facebook/jouelegenre

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