Lloyd Evans talks to the warm, vibrant, vegetable-growing actor, teacher and director Caroline Quentin
Terminal fear. Rising nausea. And possibly vomiting. That’s what Caroline Quentin expects to go through on the opening night of her new play, Terrible Advice, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. ‘I’m really pretending it’s not happening at the moment,’ she tells me when we meet in the theatre bar. With two weeks to go before the first performance, she confesses, ‘I get dry-mouth at the very bloody thought of it. Mind you, I’m always like this halfway through rehearsals, I think, agh! I can’t bear it, perhaps I can run away. Or feign injury. Or I start booking flights mentally and all that.’
Does she dream that the theatre has burnt down? ‘Oh, yeah, I do all that.’ And imagine burning it down herself? ‘Imagine it? No, I actually plan it.’
In person, she’s warm, vibrant, fast-talking and apt to burst into fits of laughter. Clearly she’s easy company, a good mixer, and not given to introspection or anxiety. It’s impossible to imagine her saying anything airy-fairy or pretentious. The production, a world première, is constantly being rewritten and she has to cope with pages of new dialogue to be mastered overnight. ‘I usually use my 12-year-old, Emily, like a slave, to help me learn my lines,’ she admits, ‘but she’s too young to read this. There’s a lot of swearing, and it’s quite sexually explicit. And I’m hoping people won’t come expecting a sitcom. It’s a very dark piece about two girls and two guys who are best friends. And they’re couples, too. They’re really quite damaged people. It’s about how we lie to ourselves, and deceive each other, and what we settle for, and how we convince ourselves that what we’re settling for is a choice. It’s a brutally honest piece of work.’
The writer, Saul Rubinek, is a film actor best known for his role in True Romance in which he played a movie mogul who buys a suitcase of cocaine from Christian Slater’s character.