Caroline Faber has just been filming half a dozen EastEnders episodes, due to be screened soon, in which she plays a policewoman.
By night, she’s doing something rather gentler, taking the stage with Robert Bathurst in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre with Love, Loss and Chianti, a piece of Robert’s own devising.
The night is based on two ‘lyrical narratives’ by the award-winning writer Christopher Reid.
The first, A Scattering, sees Robert on stage alone, articulating Reid’s response to the death of his wife. In the second, The Song of Lunch, Robert (Cold Feet, Downton Abbey, Toast of London) shares the stage with Caroline (Merlin, A Good Murder) for a lunch with a difference.
Over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Soho, a man attempts to rekindle an old flame, but as the wine flows, nostalgia gives way to something closer to the truth in the drama of a disastrous date, all against an animated setting by the Daily Telegraph’s Alex cartoonist Charles Peattie.
For Caroline, it will be a slightly-strange evening, given she will be sitting out the first half.
“I don’t think I have ever done anything quite like that before. Usually once you are on, you can relax into the situation and the characters. I will be sitting there waiting for an hour and a half, including interval, while Robert does his thing. I will have to try to do lots of breathing exercises and relaxing!
“But actually, I do find it quite easy to focus, and for this we will have a particular environment, with the animated setting. These characters meet for lunch, and it is all quite stylised – though I hesitate to use the word. But the thing is the director didn’t want the naturalistic thing of us sitting a table eating. We aren’t at a table. You don’t see plates. And we are not miming eating. We are just talking. Christopher Reid’s writing is so evocative. It is just about these two souls coming together in this space.
“The woman has run off with a novelist, with a more successful writer. And then they meet up again. We don’t have any names. We are nameless. We don’t really know what happened or why, but things are revealed in the course of the poem. It is such a beautiful thing–- and the really strange thing is to be juggling this and EastEnders.
“I have this very direct role in EastEnders playing a police officer. But then actually, I am amazed how naturalistic this poem sounds. It is written in such a way that it is not difficult to lift it off the page.”
And there are teasing ambiguities. Given it isn’t written in the format ‘He said... She said...’, there are times when it is difficult to know which one is speaking a particular line. Christopher Reid was present and able to put them right in one particular instance.
“We’d assumed these particular lines were my character’s, but actually it turned out they were Robert’s, which completely changed the dynamic of the whole section. It was really quite terrifying to have the poet in the room, but at the same time it was very useful.”
Also intriguing for the audience will be teasing out any relationship between the two pieces. Does the second play on the first? It will be for the audience to ponder...
Love, Loss and Chianti is in the Minerva Theatre from January 22 to 31. It is devised for the stage by Robert Bathurst and directed by Jason Morell with music by Tom Smail, illustration by Charles Peattie and design by Timothy Bird.