From sassy solicitor to consumptive courtesan, DANIELA NARDINI is back on stage and determined that this life is the life she wants to lead. Words: Steve Cramer
‘ he must be method.‘ I think. as Daniela Nardini 5 makes her way gingerly to my table upstairs at
the Lyric llammcrsmith in West London. At one point. she stops. leans on a vacant chair and is riven with a fit of coughing. finally. she feels her way over to my table and sits gently down: the very image of Marguerite (iautier. the eonsuntptive prostitute in La Dame uux‘ ('umelius. I wonder at the ravages of an actor preparing through Stanislavski. and make a mental note. should I ever direct again. never to cast a method actor as ()cdipus. Then the lady explains that she's down with a dreadful lurgy. has just seen the doctor. and is currently running a white hot temperature. Having just mixed an antibiotic with a painkiller. she's a hit out of it.
I lean forward and realise that the handsome Nardini is looking distinctly peely wally. This puppy should be at home under her duvet. sipping a hot toddy. I apologise. and she’s a picture of grace and good nature. remaining so throughout what must be at trying interview.
lior Nardini. a return to the stage is a welcome change.
But her first theatre gig in some time — in the title role of
('umille. an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel. directed by fellow Scot and noted opera figure David McVicar —- was also a challenge. ‘I was very
nervous about it. but I felt like I hadn't flexed my acting muscles for a while.‘ says Nardini. whose post-This Life career has included a run of small-screen parts in shows such as Amy Jenkins‘ Iz'lephunr .luiee. Fay Weldon's Big llimren and last year's Sirens with Sarah Parish and (ireg Wise. ‘llaving been classically trained. there was only so long I could go without going back. For a while. all the plays I was sent were things I wanted to do but couldn't. and all the television stuff was: “()h (iod. not another police drama." There isn't enough out there to fulfil me in terms of film and television at the moment. so when David McVicar came through with this project. and Neil Bartlett said he'd written the adaptation with me in mind. I was kind of flattered.‘
The story about the life and times of Marguerite (iautier has been written and rewritten many times: why should the story of the Parisian courtesan afflicted with consumption and pitting away in love with her younger suitor be so fascinating'.’ Does our culture have an unconscious obsession with the prostitute"? Is it true that women have sexual fantasies about prostitution and that men are engaged by the idea of the ‘zipless fuck"? Whatever the fascination. what plays out in this (‘umille is still more psychologically complex.
'The real Camille was 25 when she died. and I think her father raped her when she was ll.‘ says Nardini. ‘By the time she was l3 she was already a prostitute. But she looked like a duehess and led the life of a film star. going to openings and the equivalent of film premieres. Iiveryone knew about her. but nobody said anythingf
LOOKED LIKE A DUCHESS AND LED THE LIFE OF A FILM STAR, BUT NOBODY
The love that she shares with young. well-to-do Armand is explicable by their circumstances. ‘lt‘s a very physical thing and she really fancies this beautiful young man. I mean. she's used to sleeping with these tawdry old gitsf she laughs. then breaks into a pretty consumptive fit of coughing. Recovering. she doesn't lose the thread: "She also likes his obsession with her. she thinks: “Wow. he really loves me." She’s a kind of party girl. so she isn't used to being loved. L'ltimately. she sacrifices everything for him. I wouldn't have. personally. I'd have gone . . .‘ She gestures “sling your hook". with a wry grin. and I can‘t help but think that Nardini would be splendid company without her current ailment.
So. seven years on. what does the career revolution of This Life mean to her'.’ Nardini looks back on this phenomenally successful drama of cavorting twentysomething professionals with mixed feelings. ‘Before This Life. I didn't know if I was really cut out for acting. I mean. it's a really tough living.’ she says. with an endearingly vulnerable grin. ‘The show really turned that around. But with this show. a lot of the discussion l've heard has been: “But you were Anna from This Life. a really modern woman: why are you doing this?" I'm an actress. it was a part. and I'm really glad the show was so successful. but there's an element of some reviewers wanting me to be that same woman.‘
This is one of several collaborations between McVicar and Nardini: what‘s it like working with a director more often associated with opera‘.’ ‘He‘s very driven and passionate about what he does.‘ she says about the celebrated and controversial 36-year-old director who recently described himself as ‘Glaswegian. not very middle- elass. openly gay and upfront about sex and [his] HIV-positive status’.
‘He loves drama.’ says .\'ardini. ‘So we initially had a little creative conflict. because actors like to be subtle. whereas opera singers like to be big. David pushed us toward that. and having done a lot of film lately. I'd got used to doing things smaller. I feel we‘ve found the balance now.‘
At this point she coughs again. and looks pretty wan. I take pity on the poor thing. and say I don't need any more. though really I‘ve enjoyed the chat so much I wish it would go on. As she leaves. she admits a little wony about her performance that night. She can’t hear properly. so can't pitch her voice. 1 reveal that I'm in to watch it. and the thought of the first critic from Scotland seeing the show as she suffers this ailment provokes a hands-to-face ‘Oh no!‘ She really needn't have worried. The show comes highly recommended. even if those fits of consumptive coughs in the dying Camille provoked an extra sympathetic wince.
Camille is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 29 April-Sat 3 May.
The theatre has a long and dishonourable relationship with prostitution.
' : Steve Cramer
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