Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fiona Shaw: 'I'm not frightened of hard words'

Fiona Shaw
'I am excitable' ... Fiona Shaw. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Given the context for my interview with Fiona Shaw, my central question – what is your favourite love poem? – doesn't seem especially tricky or prying. We meet to talk about Peace Camp, an art collaboration with director Deborah Warner and composer Mel Mercier, for which Shaw has been darting across the UK, imploring people to record their favourite love poems – and accosting well-known actors she's bumped into at airports. "Alun Armstrong! Please, will you do it?" She has recorded 570 poems in total, with voices from Cornwall, Northumberland, Wales, the Isle of Skye, and everywhere in between.
And yet Shaw is not easy to pin down. Her words keep hurtling off through exclamations, exhortations, then collapsing in laughter. She revises herself regularly, shouting into my dictaphone: "Don't write that!" She worries about anything that might come across as pretentious on the page, but in the flesh she is fast and funny – from the moment she arrives at the Guardian office in her leather jacket and dark trousers, looking like a grown-up, ultra-capable Calamity Jane. "I am excitable, as you can see," she says, "and rather big-spirited. That may be a curse as well as a blessing."
In fact, Shaw is full of another project, involving The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge's epic poem. She is about to perform the whole text in Greece, has just finished the final run through, and is struggling, this precise second, to focus on anything else.
The seed was planted in Bel Air, Los Angeles, while Shaw was filming the TV show True Blood, in which she played the witch Marnie Stonebrook. "I used to go running every day, because otherwise you start feeling slightly desolate that you're in America, thinking, 'Why aren't I at home? What is this life and who am I?'" She would take a few verses of the poem with her as she jogged, and gradually learned the whole lot.
Her friend Phyllida Lloyd agreed to direct a performance, and suddenly this "little show, of my poem, has become one of the biggest things I've ever got involved with". Next month it goes to the amphitheatre at Epidaurus as part of the Athens and Epidaurus festival. "I spoke to a Greek journalist who was saying, 'Ah, it will be very good for Greece'. I said, 'I'm not sure it's going to solve Greece!'"

Full story at The Guardian

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