To Shakespeare via soaps and sci fi

7th April 2000 at 01:00
When she was 12 she carried a torch for the Bard. Now after TV fame in 'Dr Who' and 'EastEnders' she's returned to her roots. Jonathan Harrington talks to Louise Jameson

IF Shakespeare had been a scriptwriter on EastEnders he might have written "To be or not to be, let's get it sorted."

It's a subject close to the heart of Louise Jameson, the former drama teacher who plays restaurateur Rosa di Marco in the BBC soap. This summer she is turning her back on Albert Square and is to write a book about teaching Shakespeare.

She said: "I think Shakespeare is divine and I don't use the word loosely. He is the most profound, extraordinary, spiritual writer.

"By age 12 I was using a torch under the blankets to read his collected works into the night, fascinated by the language, excited without really knowing why it was turning me on. Shakespeare taps into an area of musicality that exists within every one of us, but is not often investigated elsewhere."

Louise, who was Tom Baker's assistant Leela in Dr Who, has also worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the National Theatre.

Before the part of Rosa came up Louise was teaching: "I started about eight years ago with question-and-answer sessions at local schools, developing into workshops and then a production with a local youth group, Trinity Arts.

"I went on to teach at the Guildford School of Acting and the RADA summer school. Then I was with the National Theatre, in Death of a Salesman. It's such a small part that I was feeling a bit under-worked. I was invited to contact the National's education department and ended up working two or three days a week with them.

"I loved it. The children, mostly aged 14 to 17, must have been among some of the most difficult in south London. Yet they were so rewarding. What really surprised me was how much these kids taught me. When hey demanded to know why I interpreted something a particular way, or why anything had to be done a certain way, I found it impossible to give them anything but an honest answer.

"This meant looking at my own motivation, examining my own reasons and objectives."

Louise has continued to work in youth drama throughout her time in EastEnders. When she takes a new group of youngsters, they inevitably see her as Rosa, and want to know more about Gianni and Beppe than Banquo and Macbeth. Louise tries to deal with this swiftly, and now by writing the book feels that she has made good use of her celebrity status.

The book, Friends of Shakespeare, will have contributions from many other well-known names. Actors Jenny Agutter and Richard Briers are among the many who have promised to help.

"If you want to relate to children what better way than using the opinions of celebrities?" she asked. "When total strangers accost me in the street they think they know me. They think I am Rosa. It's one thing if a teacher says that it's worth giving Shakespeare a chance, but another if this advice comes from someone the children recognise from the rest of their lives, someone they think they know."

Her other plans include opening a jazz club: "Shakespeare's language is like jazz. Because you've got the rhythm, the iambic pentameter to fall back on, you can deviate wherever you want to, confident in the support of the five beats to a line. It's so brilliantly written I cannot find one line where you are prompted to emphasise the wrong word.

"It might surprise many people that it's much easier to retain lines from Shakespeare than EastEnders scripts ..."

To be, or not to be - that is the question... Is there something you want to ask the Bard? Find him at "Talking to Shakespeare", a unique online experience from learnfree.co.uk, backed by The TES.


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