A sheep in Woolf’s clothing

Miranda Richardson is best known for playing women on the verge of nervous explosion; but how close to the edge is she herself? Andrew Burnet meets her as she prepares for a solo show at Edinburgh International Festival.

actress Miranda Richardson. A quality shared by Ruth Ellis. the last woman to face the death penalty in the UK. whom she played in the film Dance With A Stranger; by Vivienne (wife of T. S.) Eliot. tormented by a hormonal imbalance and finally confined to a mental hospital. whom she played in Tom Aml Viv; by Queenie. the exaggeratedly batty version of Elizabeth I. whom she played in lilac/(adder.

And by fictional characters too: Penny. the scissors-wielding psycho who almost does for the hero in Simon Gray’s magnificent television play After Pi/lringmn. or June. the gun-wielding terrorist who almost murders the hostage soldier in The C rying Game.

Now Richardson is at the Edinburgh Internatioth Festival to portray a role of almost infinite capriciousness: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Not as dangerous. perhaps. as the characters above. but with the power to indulge any impulse: switching at will between

. locations. centuries. even genders.

Given her skill at portraying women on the edge. it's refreshing if slightly disappointing to meet Miranda Richardson and find her as

apricious is the word. Capricious as in the kind of woman who. on a whim. can get herself— and those around her into a lot of trouble. it's a quality many people associate with the

eccentric as the average greengrocer. Glass of

hot water with lemon; bare feet up on the sofa: , some signs of dye in the hair . . . not what you'd call evidence of insanity. There's no question she looks striking: instantly recognisable. with sharp.

delicate features and a pale complexion that contrasts with her deep blue eyes. but

Richardson refuses to live up to the daft-as- a-brush image imposed on her. It‘s the characters. not her. who have lost

the plot.

‘lt's acting.‘ she says simply. ‘l‘ll take a part if I think it’s

interesting. and enables me to go someplace.‘ And a lot of parts. she says. just aren‘t very interesting: nor does that ‘someplace‘ have to be madness or despair.

Miranda " Richardson: r behind the explosive image is a more measured character

‘l hate being bracketed in any way at all.‘ she continues. ‘I don‘t see much similarity between the character l‘ve just played in a film called Evening Star and Tom And Viv or Blackadder or any of those people. really they're all human and in this given situation they do this.‘

And when filming wraps for the day. she just hangs up her hat and returns to the real world?

‘Yeah. i do. Though I‘m always open. I hope. to ideas that are coming in. Things occur to me everywhere and anywhere. walking down the street or whatever. You just try and let things kind of float in.’

Orlando is by no means the first stage work Richardson has tackled since the lead role in Dance With A Stranger. her auspicious film debut in l985. The film lifted her from relative obscurity to leading-movie-player status. but she still worked regularly in the theatre until

‘I hate being bracketed in any way at all. I don’t see much similarity between the character I’ve iust played in a iilm called Evening Star and Tom And Viv or

Blackadder or any oi these people, really - they’re all human.’

recently. Earlier this year. panly fired by the desire to ‘get back to the live experience'. she appeared in Wallace Shawn's latest play. The Designated Maurner. at the Royal National Theatre.

This adaptation of Woolf's lusciously-writtcn novel. she concedes. is a daunting experience. It's her first solo performance. and her first project with internationally renowned director/designer Roben Wilson. Wilson's script co-written with Darryl Pinckney - has been performed in France and Germany since l989; but this will be its English-language premiere.

‘l approached [Wilson] having seen several of his productions.‘ explains Richardson. ‘l thought I really would love to be part of something with him. because it‘s a very different way of working. Different discipline and different use ofthe body. It is apparently quite technical. but it is also all about emotion. In a way. Robert provides the form and I provide the feeling.

‘Another thing I love about his work is the sense of timelessness: l have no idea how long I‘ve been watching something. It's just like have i been here a year or have I been here two seconds? I can‘t tell you.‘ She laughs at this. in a relaxed way that once again dispels the idea that the terrifying hurt and anxiety she can so effectively convey is hers.

Wilson‘s ability to distort time should serve the piece well. with its shifts of period from Elizabethan days to those of Virginia Woolf. The play should also suit Richardson remarkably well; not just because of her association with Elizabeth and Virginia (for whom Vivienne Eliot developed a jealous loathing when Tom fell in with the Bloomsbury Set).

No. Richardson may be as stable as a table. but she certainly knows how to go off like a cuckoo clock. ‘()rlan(lu is a beautiful story.’ she enthuses. It should be a wonderful‘ sort of glittering thing. with the character ofOrlando leading you through it. There are points where a bit like a child he/she has had enough of this now and . . . okay. how do we change the rules”? And there are times when he/she maybe isn't in control of it and finds himself in another place . . .'

Now if that's not capricious . . .

Orlando (International Festival) Miranda Richardson, Royal Lyceum Thea/re. Iz'dinbia'gh. 0/3/ 225 5756. [3—2] Aug (not Sun I8). 7. 30pm, £6—£2(). -

The List ‘)-l5 Aug l99613