Between the lines / The heart of the matter: Jane Lapotaire looks for the quote that sums it all up

Click to follow
She bore a mind that envy could not but

call fair.

(From Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,

Act 2 scene 1)

Not a grandiloquent phrase. Not even one of Shakespeare's more memorable quotes. Neither is it blank verse - it's from a piece of prose - but for me the paradox contains the dense simplicity of his genius. It's a description of Viola by her twin brother Sebastian, who assumes her to be drowned in the storm that separated them. When working on a role I like to isolate one phrase that's descriptive of the character I'm playing: a phrase that encompasses all aspects of the person. This phrase was my choice for Viola. (In Hamlet at the moment I'm using 'The Queen his mother lives almost by his looks', a description Claudius makes of Gertrude). Viola was the first part I ever played for the RSC and 1974 was my first time in Stratford. The Twelfth Night company, under Peter Gill's direction, was a particularly happy one. I had no idea that I was taking on a mantle till warned by Peter not to read the reviews, as they would (and did) contain comparisons with the previous most eminent Violas. So it's a landmark phrase for me in more than one sense, since it heralds my freedom from the critics affecting the second night and subsequent performances - since then I've never read a review until after the play has closed. And Viola is my favourite of all the 'breeches' roles. There's such modesty and poignancy about her.

Jane Lapotaire plays Gertrude to Branagh's Hamlet in Adrian Noble's new RSC 'Hamlet' at the Barbican, London EC2 (071-638 8891)

(Photograph omitted)