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‘It’s a real action-hero, ‘Marvel’-like play’

Super-stylish rising RSC talent Amber James on Gregory Doran's Mad-Max-style futuristic dystopian Troilus and Cressida.

Super-stylish and only 24, Amber James is a rising talent in British theatre following in the footsteps of fellow Guildhall graduates Michaela Coel and Paapa Essiedu.

After playing Stella in English Touring Theatre)’s modern dress staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, Amber has been cast as one of the young lovers in Gregory Doran’s new 50/50 gender-split production of Troilus and Cressida for the RSC. Gavin Fowler plays Troilus.

Originally from Dartford, Kent, Amber, an only child, moved to the Spanish resort of Costa Blanca with her parents when she was eight. Always into drama, music and English she attended Miskin Theatre school in Kent at 16 and has been working professionally for three years since graduating from Guildhall School of Music & Drama. She last appeared in the RSC’s 2016/17 season in Antony and Cleopatra, Titus Andronicus and Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Currently in rehearsal, Muddy caught up with Amber before the play opens at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday October 12 and live in cinemas nationally on November 14. The young actress answers 19 quick-fire questions:


Why do you feel 50/50 gender-balanced casting is so important, particularly for female actors in the industry?

Because we will get to the point where it’s not a conversation. In rehearsal you didn’t even notice it.


What’s the vibe of Troilus and Cressida?

HOT STUFF: Troilus and Cressida in rehearsal. Photo by Helen Maybanks

We have set it in a dystopian future. The vibe is quite similar to Mad Max, set in a desert and hot. Everyone is looking very cool. A lot of the guys came back to rehearsal today with very cool hair-cuts.


You’re playing Cressida, whose lover is Trojan solider, Troilus. How did you wish to portray her?

I was incredibly grateful to be cast as Cressida. I hadn’t read the play before, so it meant I could read it without any preconceptions. She’s like so many strong young women I know, incredibly smart and witty. She’s a very all-or-nothing person, so that makes her very wary of who she trusts.

Cressida has grown up in a war-torn country with people dying around her. The play starts in the middle of that war. We worked out she was 13 when it started, seven years ago. Her character is very relevant for any young woman in her early twenties – like me – at the point when you’re no longer a teenager and are experiencing for the first time what it’s like to be treated as a woman.


Why do you think Cressida is unfaithful?

How I read it Cressida’s just been taken from home and her relationship and been put into a camp with men who are terrifying. As a woman she has to make choices to keep herself safe and Diomedes offers her protection, but not without her giving something back.


What do you think will surprise audiences about the play?

It’s weird, it’s rarely done and compared to Romeo and Juliet many people won’t know the story. But they will have heard of Helen of Troy, Ulysses, Ajax and Achilles. This play has super heroes.  It’s a real action hero-like, ‘Marvel’ play. There are some of the best stage fights I’ve ever seen!


As a cast you’ve collaborated closely with Artistic Director Gregory Doran on this play. What’s the most memorable thing he has said to you?

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran in rehearsal

He is like a quiet genius – he will say something profound, walk away and your world will change.


World-famous solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie is providing the soundtrack to Troilus and Cressida, what’s it been like working with her?

In rehearsals she gave us a taster session of the type of instruments she will be using, and it really does feed the emotions of the play. I haven’t heard the score yet, as we have not gone into tech, but I’m losing my mind with excitement!


Who’s the most fun to hang out with backstage?

Troilus actor Gavin Fowler

It’s a really fantastic mix of a cast with some really experienced actors and some young ‘uns. Sometimes it’s really fun to sit with Amanda Harris (Aeneas) who has a great sense of humour, then with Gavin (Fowler, Troilus) and James (Cooney, Patroclus), from Manchester, who are really funny, and Sheila Reid (Thersites) is very naughty!


What’s a signature Amber outfit?

A pair of Doc Martens like these (lifting one foot). I’m not really a jeans person but I like a good pair of trousers. These (pointing to the orange linen harem pants she has on) are from Etsy. I shop at Urban Outfitters, so a cool top from there. A big coat for autumn and a pair of hoops.


Which book has made the most impact on you?

Harry Potter. I grew up with the characters. What’s brilliant about J K Rowling is, you can go back and re-read them and go: ‘so that’s what that was all about’. They’re so much deeper.


What’s your motto?

“When you’re rehearsing or on a stage you need the right amount of f*** it!”


What are the two items you always carry with you?

My phone. Chewing gum.


Which emoji do you use the most?

Laughing face.


What’s your signature scent?

I wear Tom Ford Orchid Soleil in the winter – but it’s expensive. It’s warm and sexy. In the summer I wear Hugo Boss The Scent – which is very fresh.


Who’s the nicest person you’ve met in theatre?

L to R: Chipo Chung as African queen Dido and Amber James as Dido’s sister, Anna in Kimberley Sykes directorial debut. Photo by Topher McGrillis, (c) RSC

There are two – a power couple! (Theatre directors) Iqbal Khan and Kimberley Sykes. They are just incredible people and were so supportive of me when I got this gig. I’ve worked with both at the RSC. Iqbal on Antony and Cleopatra and Kimberly on Dido, Queen of Carthage. They really nurture their actors.


What would your super power be?

To fly.


Any dream roles?

I’d like to play either Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra – or both!


Complete this sentence, “In five years’ time I…”

Will have played another lead role here or in London and done some more screen work.


What would the Amber pizza have as a topping?

I like a bit of spice – so pepperoni, chilli and olives with chilli oil.


Troilus and Cressida runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from Friday October 12 for one month only until November 17, rsc

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