She-Wolves is a tour of medieval England through the eyes of the women who attempted to rule it and is being performed at this year’s Fringe in Edinburgh at The Forest Theatre.
Actress, Laura Careless, spoke to The Fountain about playing all five characters in the play, the influences behind the production and her grandiose plans for She-Wolves.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
Yes, very! This will be my third time performing at the Fringe but my first time bringing a show I have created. There are so many steps involved in creating, producing and promoting a show, and I am really looking forward to getting to Edinburgh and focusing on what I do best – performing!
TF: She-Wolves certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
She-Wolves is based on the book and BBC series by historian Helen Castor, who is also Historical Consultant for the project. It tells the stories of five royal women who ruled England before Elizabeth I. When they pursued power at a time when it was male by definition, they were vilified as She-Wolves.
It’s juicy stuff, wives leading rebellions against husbands, daughters fighting for the thrones promised to them by their fathers, mothers losing their children, and stubborn women breaking the rules all over the place. I couldn’t believe that I’d never come across any of these stories before I read the book.
In the show, I play all five women. Each of them is represented through a collaboration with an artist in a different creative medium, so each lady really has her own flavour in the show.
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
One of my all-time favourite books is Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (also quoted in the show). It is a combination of traditional stories centred around wild, intuitive female archetype, and a Jungian analysis of the psyche of women today. Estés reclaims the wolf from its villainous position in fairy tales and advocates for wildness as a fundamental part of a healthy human nature. Her writing fills me with confidence in my own instincts, and has guided me through some of the best and most challenging of times in my own life.
So when a friend gave me Dr. Castor’s book for my birthday a few years ago, and I saw the word “wolf” connected to royalty, I was immediately hooked! Two years later, the stage version will premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe, and the personal questions which have intrigued me from the beginning are still at the heart of my interpretation: why “She-Wolf”? What is it that wolves and powerful women have in common – and why are we so afraid of them both? These have proven to be really rich themes for a work of physical theatre!
It has been a fascinating experience to collaborate with an historian and tell stories about people who were real, rather than fictional characters. At first I was afraid of taking too many liberties and portraying a false representation of history. But as Dr. Castor says, the best an historian can ever do is piece together their best guesses about a person from the scraps of evidence that are left behind. In our first meeting, she talked about the importance of remembering that these people were not mere collections of facts, but were living, breathing, feeling humans facing challenges and choices as we all do.
In my view, a performer creating a character for the stage is essentially following the same process as a historian. The primary sources may be a piece of choreography or text rather than an original document, but here too we are attempting to flesh out a believable human existence from the few shards of it that have been recorded.
Whether the characters I have created for this show bear any resemblance to the originals, we’ll never know! Even the most familiar historical events were impossible to imagine before they happened. The unpredictable nature of live theatre feels like the ideal space to explore these stories and remember that we in the process of making tomorrow’s history today.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, have you been before?
I performed at the Fringe in 2008 and 2011 with Company XIV, the NY- based physical theatre and nightlife company where I was a Founding Member, and a Principal Performer for many years. The shows were The Judgement of Paris and Pinocchio: A Fantasy of Pleasures. From these epic runs – one year we did twenty-six shows in a row without a day off! – I saw how the opportunity to perform a show this many times for energized and knowledgeable audiences helped us to bond and grow as a company. We got really comfortable and skillful – not to mention shameless! – in talking to potential audience members about our work, and the media attention we received provided the foothold we needed to establish ourselves in New York City. Now that I’m creating my own work, coming to Edinburgh is a no-brainer! I love the buzz of the festival and look forward to sharing this work that I am so passionate about with as many people as possible.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond She-Wolves?
To take She-Wolves on a tour of the UK to the historic sites where the action really happened: Battlefields, castles, abbeys, and towns where local history has been directly affected by the lives of these women. To continue using my professional life to tell the stories that celebrate under-recognized female figures and archetypes. To sleep in my own bed more often – freelancing is wonderful and I’m grateful to be so busy performing, teaching and choreographing throughout Europe and the US, but life is a bit too nomadic at the moment! And to continue having kitchen dance parties with my husband as often as possible.
She-Wolves, The Forest Theatre, Greenside @Infirmary Street (V236), August 13-18, 20-24