Interview with Rebecca Johnson

Love, Loss & Chianti, an exciting double-bill from award-winning British poet Christopher Reid, opens at the Riverside Studios later this month. I spoke with Rebecca Johnson, who stars alongside Robert Bathurst in The Song of Lunch and A Scattering. 

How did you get into acting?
I was always in plays at school. Even in primary school – I was cast as the witch in a telling of Hansel and Gretel. And boy, did I have fun with that!! School plays were augmented by ballet classes and drama classes outside school from the age of eight. I don’t think my family can ever remember a time when it wasn’t completely obvious that I was going to be an actor!

I went to a new school to do my A levels, where there happened to be a very inspiring drama teacher. He wrote plays for us, took us to the Edinburgh Festival to perform, got us a run over Christmas one year at the Cochrane Theatre here in London. It was such great experience of performance to gain early on. He also encouraged me to audition for drama school. LAMDA was the second school I attended an audition at and they offered me a place immediately after the recall.

Can you tell me a little bit about Love, Loss & Chianti and your character?
Our show translates to the stage two books of poems by Christopher Reid. The first half of the show is called A Scattering – it’s a collection of poems that Christopher wrote in response to the death of his wife Lucinda Gane. Robert Bathurst takes on the voice of the poet – while I embody the memory of his late wife. The second half of the show is called The Song of Lunch. Two former lovers (of which I play one) meet in a Soho, Italian restaurant for lunch. The reunion after fifteen years if full of fond memories until the wine takes effect! It’s funny and also somewhat close to the bone! So, I have two characters to play.

What was it about the role that appealed to you?
The main thing that appealed to me was Christopher Reid’s writing. He won the Costa Book Award 2009 for A Scattering. Besides winning the poetry category it also won the overall award for that year. Only one other poet has ever achieved that before: Seamus Heaney. It’s also a joy to work with Robert and Jason Morrell (the director).

What can audiences expect?
A Scattering and The Song of Lunch are both about love and loss – although the situation and the outcome of both is different. They’re also quite short – I for one, am a big fan of short shows!!

We’ve all loved, we’ve all lost – it’s the nature of life. There’s great comfort in realising that we’re united by these universal emotions. And maybe theatre (and poetry) is there to liberate the feelings that would otherwise lie buried and unexpressed.

And the redevelopment of the Riverside Studios is very exciting. It’s going to be a lovely spot for Springtime evening out.

What are you most looking forward to about performing the show?
We’ve had plans to put this show together for about the last 18 months – since we did The Song of Lunch on its own at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018. So, I’m most looking forward to actually getting it up and running. And to see how the audience responds to it. I’m loving the fact also that Hammersmith is a short bus ride from my home. I might even get my running shoes on and run there of an evening!

I went to school in Hammersmith – there are many happy memories there for me. I remember the old Riverside Studios, under the excellent artistic directorship of Peter Gill. I’m looking forward to being part of the new chapter in its history. And to be able to perform at the site of so many productions that I look back on with admiration.
I’m looking forward to working with Robert again and getting the chance to put Christopher’s writing in front of a new audience.

Can you describe your character in three words?
Well I’ve got two characters, so can I have three words for each?
A Scattering: Brave, funny, undimmable
The Song of Lunch: Elegant, Oracle-eyed, pragmatic

Love, Loss and Chianti will run at Riverside Studios from Tuesday 25 February – Sunday 17 May 2020.

Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

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