chapter  4
9 Pages

Kate Duchêne: James Loehlin


In the summer of 2010, Kate Duchêne-an actress with over two decades of theatrical credits from the West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre-played her first Shakespearean lead on a London stage. She appeared to broad acclaim in the role of Queen Katharine in Mark Rosenblatt’s production of Henry VIII at Shakespeare’s Globe. Her performance provides an instructive instance of what a gifted and experienced actor can bring from non-Shakespearean work to a challenging part in one of the most demanding Shakespearean venues. This essay will focus on Duchêne’s performance as Katharine-both process and product-and will be informed by my interview with her at Shakespeare’s Globe on 19 August 2010 (from which all quotations are taken). Duchêne had done some previous Shakespeare, but mostly quite early in her

career: Mariana in Measure for Measure while at Cambridge in 1981, the Princess of France in Love’s Labour’s Lost at Chichester in 1989, Queen Elizabeth in the tour of Sam Mendes’ RSC Richard III in 1992-3, Jessica in David Thacker’s RSC Merchant in 1993-4. Since 2000 much of her theatre work was with the avant-garde director Katie Mitchell, including a series of productions at the Royal National Theatre. These productions encompassed classical and modern texts together with intensely detailed acting and innovative stagecraft. Duchêne appeared in Mitchell’s RNT productions of Iphigenia at Aulis (Euripides, 2004), Waves (based on Virginia Woolf, 2006-8), Attempts on Her Life (Martin Crimp, 2007), and Women of Troy (Euripides, 2007). Mitchell’s meticulous rehearsal techniques were a significant influence on the process by which Duchêne built up the role of Katharine. She had also done film and television work throughout her career, most prominently

in the television series The Worst Witch in 1998-2000. As Constance Hardbroom, a severe deputy headmistress at a school for young witches, she developed a popular following; she opted out of a similar role in the Harry Potter series of films. Her air of intimidating authority served her again as Carey Mulligan’s Latin teacher in the Oscar-nominated An Education (2009), and it was an important dimension of her characterization of Queen Katharine. She has excelled in roles that, like Katharine, Hecuba, or Queen Elizabeth, combine imperiousness and vulnerability. She was a heartbreaking Varya in Adrian Noble’s 1995 RSC The Cherry Orchard, maintaining order in the crumbling household while enduring her own hidden griefs.