That Was The Week: 5 days in the life of ...

A National Theatre actress discovers Japan as 'Othello' starts a world tour
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MONDAY: We've been here a week now, and today was our first day off since we opened on Thursday. We did a Sunday matinee yesterday, but last night there was no performance and the people who run the theatre laid on the most amazing banquet for us. There are about 25 of us including cast and production, and we all sat around on cushions being brought traditional Japanese food. We've been made incredibly welcome here.

Today we visited some hot springs in a place called Myanoshita Onsen. You start off in a hot tub in a log cabin and then go outside where there are various other sunken tubs, all different depths and temperatures. The air was very cold and you're surrounded by mountains. Incredible.

TUESDAY: During the day I've tended to go out with Simon Russell Beale, who's an old friend of mine. He's playing Iago. Today we visited the Imperial Palace gardens and the Japanese war memorial, which is a Shinto shrine. We've learnt a lot about Shinto - it's like having a god for everything, so, for example, there is a Shinto figure at the theatre which you clap your hands at and ask it to help make the performance go well.

Performances begin earlier than we are used to, at 6.30pm. People come straight from work. There's a much greater sense of culture being a part of people's lives here. Simon and I discovered this when we went to see some kabuki last week. Performances begin at about 11 in the morning and go on until the evening, but they're done as a cycle of plays so people come in for an hour or two to catch a performance and then go off again.

We've been playing to full houses - the theatre holds 800 - and seem to have gone down well. We'd been warned that Japanese audiences would be very restrained and not applaud much, but one or two people have actually been on their feet clapping at the end. But I'm still very conscious of how quiet people are during the play itself. It's not been entirely Japanese in the audience. Kenneth Branagh came to our opening night, and we've also had Prince Edward - we're all part of the UK98 season that's happening in Japan at the moment.

WEDNESDAY: As this is such a long tour and there's always the chance of someone falling ill, we had our first afternoon rehearsal for the understudies today. There are understudies for Othello, Desdemona and Iago, but not for my part, Emelia, who is Desdemona's servant. I don't have much to do in the first half, but it all builds up in the second.

It went fine again tonight. We've sussed out a really good restaurant round the corner from the theatre, where you can eat incredibly cheaply. Everyone was expecting Tokyo to be fantastically expensive, but five of us ate here and the bill came to pounds 16, including drink. The only problem is that places seem to close very early. You need to be in by 10.30pm.

THURSDAY: It's been interesting to learn what the critics have made of us. We've had the reviews translated, and they've been very good. One of them had the idea that Iago was the really tragic figure, not Othello. I think the writer may have a point.

FRIDAY: Simon and I went off to an oriental bazaar, and looked at prints and fans and other decorative things. Packaging here is just wonderful - an art form in itself. We'd also heard about an English bookshop and went looking for that. But we never found it. I think people were giving us directions out of politeness rather than because they actually knew where it was. It's an extraordinarily polite, formal society. The whole thing has been the experience of a lifetime.

The Royal National Theatre production of 'Othello' goes on to South Korea, China, New Zealand, Australia and the United States before the company returns to Britain in April.

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