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Jessica Hardwick - Rapunzel

Jessica Hardwick could be forgiven for wanting to let her hair down. The Borders born actress has barely had a breather since she graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2013 to join the Citizens Theatre as one of the company's acting interns for that year. Her new tenure threw her in at the deep end for her first professional role as Sonya in Dominic Hill's epic staging of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment adapted by Chris Hannan. This was followed with Hardwick playing the maid, Christine, in Hill's equally intense staging of August Strindberg's play, Miss Julie, as adapted by Zinnie Harris.

For both of these roles Hardwick was awarded playwright John Byrne's inaugural Billy award, named in honour of actor Billy McColl and introduced to support the best in rising young talent. Hardwick was subsequently cast in Byrne's take on Chekhov's Three Sisters at the the Tron Theatre, where she also performed with Stellar Quines in Lucy Porter's The Fair Intellectual Club.

Hardwick was back at the Citz in Slope, Stewart Laing's studio-based reworking of Pamela Carter's play that looked at the relationship between the poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud for Laing's Untitled Projects. She returned again following a stint at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in Tony Cownie's reworking of Goldoni, The Venetian Twins, for the Citz's Edinburgh International Festival co-production of Lanark. This saw her play the female lead in David Greig's adaptation of Alasdair Gray's iconic novel as directed by Graham Eatough.

Now, rather than ease up from such non-stop activity, Hardwick has come home to her alma mater for Christmas to play the title role in a new version of Rapunzel. With Hardwick sporting scarlet Doc Marten boots, geek girl glasses and crazy hair, Lu Kemp's production of Annie Siddons' new take on Grimms' classic fairytale offers up a punkier, spunkier heroine than is usually depicted.

“I think quirky is a good way of describing her,” says Hardwick on a lunch break from rehearsals and still wearing her Docs. “The play is much more earthy than the fairytale, and Rapunzel's got a good bit of feist behind her. Rapunzel has this oomph and a zest for life inside her. Everything she does comes from the heart, and she's not afraid of anything. I think earthy is a good word to describe the play, because it's set in a garden a lot of the time, and it's about growing up and coming of age.

Once Rapunzel gets her hair cut I spend a lot of time dressed as a boy, so there's this tomboyish thing about her as well as her having this inner beauty. There's something very free about her. She's not a wallflower.”

This could be said as well about Hardwick. Born in Melrose, she grew up “in the middle of nowhere” and was involved in school shows from an early age. While never happy with purely academic pursuits, Hardwick came into her own once she started at Earlston High School, where a thriving drama department opened her up to new possibilities in much the same way it had done for Jack Lowden, the Olivier award winning actor who was in the year above her.

“There was a lot of love for the drama department at school,” Hardwick says, “and Jeff Thompson, the head of department, also put on shows with the local amateur operatic society, so I'd get involved in those, and from the age of thirteen had this structure of going to rehearsals two nights a week, so it became part of my routine. It was the happiest part of my life, and I couldn't imagine not having that in it, and I thought, okay, this is what makes me happy, but coming from the middle of nowhere it was still quite scary going to my parents and telling them I wanted to go to drama school when I wasn't even sure what drama school was.”

Hardwick would take the 6am bus to Glasgow every Saturday morning to take part in weekend acting classes at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Aged seventeen, Hardwick left school and moved to London to take up a place on a foundation course at RADA before moving back to Scotland for the full three year course at RSAMD/RCS.

While still studying,Hardwick was selected to take part in the Sam Wannamaker Festival at Shakespeare's Globe, where she performed in scenes from Richard Brome's little-known seventeenth century comedy, The Antipodes.

“That was quite daunting,” Hardwick says of her time at the reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse. “Because of the way it's built, you feel like a gladiator.”

Hardwick was spotted by the Citizens around the same time.

“Oh, my goodness,” she says. “The Citizens means everything to me. I was really lucky to end up here so early in my career, and I've learnt so much working with the people I have done, especially on Crime and Punishment. Everything about that was so magical, and I remember every moment. I felt part of something that was different, exciting and special. It was a beautiful part, and it gave me the confidence to believe that I can do this. I've learnt so much from everything I've done so far, and every part I've played has been different, but in my heart I will never forget Crime and Punishment.”

As if she hasn't achieved enough in her short career, Hardwick has also taken up photography.

“My brain works really quickly,” she says. “I find acting and photography calming, and they both help control that energy. It's also nice to be able to talk to people. That's something I really enjoy, and acting and photography help connect you with other people.”

Having only worked professionally for two years, Hardwick isn't sure where her ambitions will take her in the long term.

“It's a lottery,” she says. “Things have happened for me so quickly that I'm really enjoying that. There should probably be one part I'm aiming for, but at the moment it's a big Pandora's Box, never knowing what's going to happen next.”

In the immediate future, as soon as Rapunzel is over, Hardwick will be joining the National Theatre of Scotland for the American tour of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, David Greig and director Wils Wilson's contemporary reinvention of ballad-based drama.

Hardwick thinks it will be “a good adventure. I think I'm going to take my camera.”

In the meantime, she'll be keeping the Doc Martens on as Rapunzel.

“I think it will give audiences a really harmonious experience,” Hardwick says of the show. “There are lots of Christmas shows on which are tremendous fun, but there's scope as well for really clear story-telling which can be fun, quirky and unexpected. The way we're doing Rapunzel means it's also quite dark in places, but every character in it is driven by love. There's a hell of a lot of love in this play.”

Rapunzel, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 28-January 3.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, November 24th 2015

ends

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