Product, Mark Ravenhill’s satire on Hollywood and terrorism, comes to The Old Market this month. Ten years on since Ravenhill himself performed the piece, it now sees Olivia Poulet perform this tightly woven monologue, the continued rise of fundamentalism rendering the piece more poignant than ever.
Poulet portrays Leah in the revival, a beleaguered Hollywood producer, who is attempting to encourage a young star to sign up for her latest project. The film’s questionable script focuses on a 9/11 widow falling in love with a suicide bomber. Tearing apart the complexities of the Hollywood machine and the way it portrays society, the work also serves as a lurid attack on pop culture, commerciality and Islamophobia. “The premise, while it feels so far removed and comical, it is frighteningly relevant.” Whilst appearing ludicrous and hideous, there is vulnerability within this supposedly monstrous character, something Poulet puts across admirably.
Poulet’s performance of the monologue was a big hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, so now she’s thrilled to be taking around the country, but the opening night of that run petrified her. From touring a rotating production of nine different Noël Coward plays, she’d left the safe confines of a full theatre company to stand before an audience totally alone for an hour a night. I have to ask why she’d put herself through such a taxing process. “I just love people watching me, on my own for an hour,” she jokes. “It’s quite an alien thing for me to do something on my own. It’s such a brilliant script. You can rest knowing you’re in good hands with his writing. So I felt it was time to risk it.” She concedes she’ll choose projects that excite and challenge her, not just to check items off from her actoring bucket list. “I know what leaps out at me. The great thing with theatre is that directors tend to have more imagination, so I get roles I wouldn’t necessarily play on TV.”
Television may have offered a level of perfection and sheen, but the intimacy and immediacy of theatre is what truly interests the artist within. Although there’s one show which managed the gap. “One of the most exciting things I did was ‘The Thick Of It’. You got the stretch, excitement and rush of theatre, but in a TV environment.” With its innovative mixture of tightly woven gags and improvisation the show saw Poulet play Emma Messinger, an overworked Tory spin-doctor struggling to keep her male counterparts in check.
Away from her TV work on ‘Outnumbered’ and ‘Sherlock’, ‘The Captain of Köpenick’ at the National, ‘Top Girls’ in the West End and Pam Gems all-female ‘Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi’ have established Poulet as a formidable stage presence. She’s also been busy writing her own shows with a fellow actress over recent years. Filled with strong female characters, some of these have been dizzyingly close to being produced. “You get very close to things, then there’s a change of rule so everything gets swept from the slate. So I’ll believe it when we’re on the first day of filming.”
She freely admits she works extremely hard to perfect a role, but falls short of being a crazy method actor. “I shake it off at the door. I do care and get involved. I wouldn’t say I bring it into the bar after the performance, pushing people away while I regroup.” Despite playing such a range of people, many of whom find themselves in difficult and challenging circumstances, she’s more than able to step away from the rigors of the creative process. “You’d be insane if you weren’t. It’s such an exposing and fragile business. You are very vulnerable, so you have to surround yourself with people you feel safe with.”