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From the bookies to Stratford's RSC

Worcestershire News - 26 April 2003

THERE was a time when Emma Fielding lived above a betting shop in Malvern, and now the actress is playing two of Shakespeare's most powerful women with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

"It's a beautiful part of the world," said Fielding, fondly remembering her childhood stay in Malvern.

"When the racing wasn't on I used to be allowed downstairs to draw on the paper and watch television."

But now she finds herself on the Stratford as both Isabella in Measure for Measure and Imogen in Cymbeline.

"At the start of the play Imogen is married and so is not a virgin, which is unusual for a Shakespearean heroine, but she has a great lust for life," said Fielding.

"Isabella has very strongly-held beliefs, which can be hard to put into today's mainly secular society.

"I have tried to make her very much of her own time.

"Some people have described her as a religious fanatic because of her beliefs but I think that's too harsh.

"In Shakespeare's time, the notions of virginity and chastity were very highly valued, but today sex has become devalued.

"It's something I can relate to a certain extent because of my Catholic upbringing, although I have lapsed myself.

"In the world of the play, the dilemma of whether to have sex with someone to save their brother's life is much harder.

"And there's the dilemma of whether a brother can ask his sister to be raped to save his life.

"You have to present these extraordinary situations as believably as possible."

This version, directed by Sean Holmes, mixes a mid-1940s setting into the play, but Fielding advises the audience not to get hung up on the inconsistencies and go with the flow.

"The reasons it isn't frequently performed is that has a big cast, it is rarely a set text. Directors are wary of it because of its inconsistencies and because notorious final scene which is like Poirot on speed with about 24 revelations."

This is the latest in a number of appearances with the RSC for Fielding, including The School for Scandal, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Broken Heart.

As well as appearing frequently as a radio presenter, Fielding's television credits include playing Hermione in My Uncle Silas, Green Eyed Monster, Great Deliverance, Other People's Children and Wings of Angels.

"The thing that people still talk to me about is Arcadia at the National Theatre," she said.

"To be the part of the first cast discovering the play and the first to perform it in front of people."

She has also recently returned from appearing in Noel Coward's Private Lives on Broadway.

"Walking to work through Times Square was amazing," she said. "As was leaving work among all those lights.

"I was living on the Upper West Side where they filmed a lot of Sex and the City and for me it was like living the Sex and City lifestyle.

"There were the most extraordinary people, not like in London, where the people are just cross.

"I felt a lot safer there than I do in London. I would walk for miles on my own relatively late at night, but in London I wouldn't walk to my front door.

"I don't think people realise how beautiful Manhattan is."

Stratford may not be Broadway, but Fielding is grateful for the opportunity to be out of the capital.

"It is just such a relief," she said.

Previews for Measure for Measure from today at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

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