As one half of our fabulous directing duo pointed out, this play we’re doing is like an onion. It is made up of layer upon layer. And so are the leading female characters, Teresa, Mary and Catherine.
As an actor, I always start with what’s on the page. And Teresa comes across as a particular type: middle-aged vegetarian woman, who runs a healthfood business with her second husband. She is a catholic at heart who plays the family martyr well, but who is also the keeper of many family secrets. See her yet? Meet Teresa. She is the eldest of the three sisters, the one who took care of their dying mother as she slipped into dementia. The responsible one, in a way. But there are other layers. The text contains so many little clues as to her past, the life outside the time and place of the play. It’s almost as if this point in time, where the play is set, is an anomaly in Teresa’s life. She has suffered a bereavement, is now brought together with her two sisters to bury their mother, and suddenly old issues resurface and secrets spill out. She is, in fact, out of character. But perhaps more herself than she has been for a long time.
Putting together a character’s clothes is a big part of the process of bringing them to life. With Teresa it was always going to be comfy clothes, knits, textures, ethnic details… A rummage through my own wardrobe (thanks mum for the knitting) and a couple of trips to UFF produced the right mix. Frumpy, but colourful, well-meaning but a bit off – you get the picture.
I like Teresa. I’ve grown to like her. She is honest and earnest, if a little blind to herself sometimes. But she is done with pleasing people. The greatest strength of the play, and maybe the greatest strength of Teresa as well, is the desire to face the truth. Lay it out like a corpse for a final viewing! And the beautiful thing about truth – and this play – is that it’s both sad and funny. Usually at the same time. I’m just not sure Teresa gets the joke…