BWW Interview: Monica Dolan Talks ALL ABOUT EVE
Monica Dolan is an award-winning actress from stage and screen. In 2017, her debut play The B*easts garnered critical acclaim, a one-woman piece she both penned and featured in herself.
With rehearsals for All About Eve underway, Monica shares her excitement for taking on a similar role of direct address (playing both Karen and a narrator). She also gives an insight into working with Ivo van Hove, and adapting the classic 1950s film for the stage.
What are your earliest memories of theatre?
It was probably seeing my brother and sisters in a school show in Woking (my brother played one of the farm hands in The Wizard of Oz). Then when I was at middle school, we did a play called Ernie's Incredible Illucinations. I was cast as the librarian and I'd broken my leg, so I played it with a massive plaster cast on!
I felt a lovely connection with the audience, so I suppose that's when I got bitten.
You'll soon be appearing in All About Eve, adapted from the iconic film. Were you a fan of the silver screen growing up?
I didn't have a lot of experience of films or theatre growing up actually, it was more television.
I remember watching The Review Show though, which had people talking about film and theatre and books. I think we've got more into an age of celebrity endorsement, and maybe there aren't that many of those programmes around now. But they actually taught me a bit about how to think about theatre and art and film and those worlds.
And how did you get immersed into those worlds then?
I got more into theatre later, after I joined the Act One Youth Theatre in Guildford (run by the wonderful Jane Walters). But I didn't get into any particular culture until drama school at Guildhall. That was right next to the Barbican, so we could go and see plays there.
The first jobs that I did were in theatre, initially at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. That lasted about eight months and it was in rep doing about five different plays, so it was very varied. That was so useful, because I was able to experiment in live theatre and develop myself as an actor. Theatre is a place you can really explore, so I could try to develop a variety of skills.
Speaking of which, more recently you penned your first play for the stage: The B*easts. What led to this project?
Well, I've always loved writing. I did a screenplay and I had started trying to write more for television, including rewriting an historical drama that Trevor Bentham did in the Eighties. The good thing about historical dramas is that they don't particularly date! So they're quite good things to take over.
But sometimes with all of the snakes and ladders that you have in writing for TV, they can make you feel like there's no control. So I thought, "Well, actually I'm going to do something myself now".
If you do something for theatre, there isn't really a reason why it shouldn't be put on somehow if you really want it to be. And if it's a one-person show like I did, then you can stay in reasonable control...although that can be quite addictive, being in control!
And I'd always wanted to go to Edinburgh - I had never performed in anything there. So all of that, plus I love storytelling. I remember going to see Peter Ustinov when I was about 11 in the West End. It was just him on the stage, telling a story. And that's what I wanted to do: a show with one actor, direct address, telling this particular story.
And that not only led to Edinburgh, but also the Bush Theatre.
That was such a beautiful surprise and journey!
I remember reading it out for the first time in my living room to eight friends and thinking, "I'm going to lose eight friends in one night!". It was very vulnerable, wondering if it would work. But it just grew and grew, and then I found about the Olivier nomination!
I had never dreamed of anything like that happening. It was brilliant...but in some ways it was quite unsettling and unnerving. Because you think, "Gosh, maybe I should have been trying to do this a lot longer".
Do you think it's something you'd like to continue alongside acting then, writing for the stage?
I think so. (And I've still got quite a lot of things tucked away, actually!)
Hopefully, I'll be able to do some writing in the mornings before doing this show in the evenings soon.
Talking (all about) All About Eve! Had you seen the film?
I had back in 2015, when I was at the Royal Court doing Plaques and Tangles. Bríd Brennan was playing my Mum, and I was talking to her in the dressing room, and she could not believe that I hadn't seen All About Eve. So I went home and tried to see it straight away.
I suppose my relationship with the film is fairly recent. And with what we're doing with the film and adapting it for the stage, it feels like an ideal timeframe to have seen it. You know, three or four years ago, rather than having seen it very recently or too far in the past.
I can remember bits of it and I can remember the story, but I'm not too hooked on the details of anyone's performance or anything like that.
What can you tell us about your role?
Well, I'm really lucky, and it's particularly to do with what we've been talking about with The B*easts. I absolutely fell in love with that relationship with the audience: the directness and storytelling you can have with them. So as well as being involved in the story, my character in All About Eve is also one of the narrators.
At the beginning, you might not realise why she's telling the story or why she's invested in the story, and then that becomes more and more clear. I also think Karen is one of the characters that changes a lot. So as an arc, it should be an interesting journey to go on every night, because she has a some very big shocks in the piece.
Interesting! I remember the film has some narration too, so it'll be interesting to see how that similar form of direct address translates to stage.
Yes! And the extraordinary thing about direct address is that when I was doing it with The B*easts, there were nights when the audience was incredibly vocal. And I knew I couldn't ignore that; I had to embrace it.
But there were other nights when they were absolutely silent and all of the thoughts had to come from my character, they couldn't come from the audience. So it's always an exciting balancing act with direct address, because your contact with them is so close. You can't pretend they're not there, otherwise why do it?
Finally, how do you think Ivo van Hove's adaptation will speak to audiences?
Well I'm really enjoying what Ivo has done with this. This is my first time working with him, but I've seen almost all of his work here.
And what we're doing is setting it in quite a timeless way. But it still feels very much about the crossover between theatre and Hollywood, or where they dovetail, or where one is threatened by the other.
What's so interesting about the story and about the script is it can seem witty and light. But it's actually very animal, it's very much about territory. It's about life changes: new energies coming along and old energies changing or dying.
So there's a lot of basic, human hopes and fears going on there. I think that's why its appeal is so wide: it's set in that world of theatre and film, but it's all about power play. The usurper and the usurped. The stakes are very high.
Photo credit: Jan Versweyveld