Interview: Eve Ponsonby

Amy Moore speaks to Eve Ponsonby, who plays Viola De Lesseps in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE at the Noel Coward Theatre

Performed at the Noel Coward Theatre, the world premiere production of Shakespeare in Love has one of the largest West End casts to date, comprising of 28 talented actors and accompanying musicians who bring the story to life on stage.

Eve Ponsonby replaces Lucy Briggs-Owen as the endearing Viola De Lesseps, alongside Orlando James who replaces Tom Bateman as William Shakespeare.

Eve recently performed opposite Orlando in Cheek by Jowls’ ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Barbican Theatre and during its international tour.

Additional theatre credits include The Fall at Theatre 503, If Only at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Longing at the Hampstead Theatre, among others.

Eve also starred as Ophelia in Ali DeSouza’s production of Hamlet at the Sam Wanamaker Festival and Shakespeare’s Globe. Television credits include BBC’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The White Queen, in addition to Channel 4’s Misfits.

What was it like to take over from the original cast?

It was great. I’d worked with Declan Donnellan (director of Shakespeare in Love) previously, so I already knew his style. I’d also seen the original cast’s dress rehearsal way back when, with no idea that I was ever going to be auditioning.

How does the role of Viola De Lesseps compare to other characters you’ve played?

She pretends to be a boy, which I’ve never done before. She’s a great part to play. There aren’t many roles in theatre nowadays that have such central, strong and ambitious parts for a girl, because she is quite young.

I think I’d find it quite hard to not bring some of my personality to the role.

I was very much a tomboy when I was a kid. I used to go by the name of George when I was six and I had short hair, so tapping into that was quite easy when playing the male part.

Were you familiar with Shakespeare in Love before you accepted the role?

I’d seen the production very early on – during the dress rehearsal – and I’d seen the film a while ago, so I knew about it.

I really love Shakespeare. I’ve never actually done a professional production of Shakespeare, but I did a lot of it at drama school.

Shakespeare in Love consists of quite a large cast. Are there any difficulties when performing?

It’s a really good company, because Declan (director for Shakespeare in Love) has instilled that we do a group warm up led by a different person in the company every night at 1800hrs. That’s really good, because you can quite easily go through a show without actually seeing people.

Every day we get together to make sure that doesn’t happen and to make sure we all stay in

Shakespeare in Love brings authentic historical figures to life. JOHAN PERSSON

Shakespeare in Love brings authentic historical figures to life. JOHAN PERSSON

How does the film compare to the production of Shakespeare in Love?

I’d say that the production makes a lot of sense on stage. Because it’s a love letter to theatre, it almost feels as if the film should have come after the stage production.

Shakespeare in Love has changed quite a bit. The structure, set pieces and the essence of the production has stayed the same, but we were given quite a lot of freedom as actors to find new relationships, and I think mine and Orlando James’ relationship is definitely different to Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen.

Talk us through your favourite scene.

It’s my first audition. I’m dressed as a boy and I have to run up all the stairs to the top and tell the nurse I’ve been to an audition. Then I have to run back down and enter immediately in a big dress for the ball. I’m always so relieved that I manage to do all the quick changes. And I really like the balcony scene when Will is wooing Viola, but it’s actually Christopher Marlowe giving him the lines. That’s a really fun scene to do.

Shakespeare in Love is performed in early modern English; did you find it challenging to learn the lines?

Shakespeare in Love is really well written by Tom Stoppard and Lee Hall.

Good language is always easier to learn, because it just comes naturally. As soon as you get to the Shakespearian text it’s in verse and I actually find that much easier to learn because you’ve got a rhythm – it’s almost like learning a song or a poem.

Do you prefer old-fashioned theatre to the more modern productions?

I think new writing is really important, but equally doing Shakespeare is brilliant because they’re timeless stories that we can all relate to.

Personally, I think it’s really important if you’re going to do old stories and old plays, to interpretate them in a new and exciting way.

How do you think Shakespeare in Love has kept up with modern audiences?

Shakespeare in Love definitely keeps up. For example, we recently had a bunch of sixth formers in. What a great show to see if you are studying Shakespeare at school.

You’ve got all the language in there and as an audience it makes you feel clever, because you’re recognising the jokes from different Shakespearian plays and you leave feeling knowledgeable, which is a positive thing.

Have you always been interested in acting?

I wanted to be a dancer for most of my life. Then I saw a production of The Crucible with my mum when I was about 15, and I was blown away.

I just started reading more and got really into reading plays. I was quite dyslexic and plays were easy to read, because it’s all broken down. I went to the theatre a lot, became obsessed with watching films, and pursued acting instead.

How does the environment between theatre and television compare?

It’s hugely different. In theatre, you’ll have a month of rehearsals and you get into the routine of performing every night and finding new stuff within that – obviously, in front of a live audience. Whereas with television, it’s instant and you don’t necessarily get much rehearsal time. But equally, you get to play on adrenaline much more. With theatre, you just get into a routine. I find it quite hard, because you have to become nocturnal.

We’re very lucky, because it’s a really good cast of people that want to have fun, so every night you can discover new things and enjoy revisiting them.

What can audiences expect from Shakespeare in Love?

They can expect a high-energy piece of theatre. Shakespeare in Love is a romantic comedy that’s not just pure cheese. It’s got heartache and it’s got laughter and it’s a story about growing up and becoming the person you need to be.

Discounted rates for groups of 8+ are available for Monday to Friday performances. Best available seats in Stalls & Royal Circle are reduced to £29.50, with Grand Circle seats reduced to £19.50. To book call 0844 482 5100 (Delfont Mackintosh) or 020 7845 0949 (Disney Group Sales). Discounted rates for school groups are available for 10+ pupils for Monday to Thursday performances during term time, with one teacher admitted free. To book call 0844 482 5165 (Delfont Mackintosh) or 020 7845 0949 (Disney Group Sales). Shakespeare in Love will be performed at the Noel Coward Theatre until June 2015. For more information visit

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