For the last five years playing Sister Winifred, Victoria Yeates
has charmed audiences of Call the Midwife with her enthusiasm for life and her dedication to her God.
Now Victoria is appearing on stage as Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller's classic American drama, The Crucible,
at the Theatre Royal Brighton.
Victoria talks to Jude Riley about the power that the play still holds, how life imitated art when she got engaged in South Africa and whether she would be the right person to deliver a real baby…
The Brighton Magazine (TBM): What can you tell us about this production of The Crucible?
Victoria Yeates: It"s a three hour show and it"s quite intense but we try to keep it quite fast-paced and it does keep people gripped. It has got that thriller element to it and people can"t quite believe the things that are happening. The audience keep going "What? No! Oh my God, I can"t believe that has happened." It keeps people on the edge of their seats.
TBM: When you"re on tour, what home comforts do you like to have in your dressing room?
Victoria Yeates: A nice scented candle, I like to bring a nice blanket with me from home and probably some flowers.
TBM: Actors have different ways of getting into a part; what"s the starting point for you?
Victoria Yeates: Really, when it comes to studying the play, you need to treat it as though you"re an investigator. You need to find out lots of things about your character so I would always ask questions such as "what does my character say about me and what do other people say about my character?" and then you write it all down and that gives you an idea of who she is. But you have to be aware that some people might lie: in the case of Elizabeth in The Crucible, Abigail lies about her. So it"s a case of unpicking the truth and discovering emotionally where they start and where they end.
TBM: What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Elizabeth?
Victoria Yeates: It"s hard because, at the beginning of the play, she"s so conflicted; she has five things going on at the same time. She loves her husband John but he has been unfaithful to her so you see her as being aggressive, defensive, guilty, scared that he might leave her and on top of that she also wants to be the best wife to him. It"s what happens when someone is having an affair but here the stakes are so high and she doesn't know how to express herself. It"s a complicated part but it makes it really interesting.
Call The Midwife Babies & Best Moments - Victoria Yeates Interview
TBM: How do you feel about slipping out of the nun"s habit and into a buttoned-up Puritan frock? Do you long to play a part where you can be glamorous and extroverted?
Victoria Yeates: Before I played Winifred I did lots of glamorous parts and wore beautiful gowns. I played Jean Harlow, and bumptious characters like Sybil in Private Lives and I came on dancing in my underwear as Poppy Dickey in the Whitehall farce, Rookery Nook. So it"s quite funny – and it was quite a surprise - how suddenly I was in a wimple and then playing a Puritan! The interesting thing is that, pre-habit and Winifred, I would never have got cast as Elizabeth Proctor and it"s a part I"ve always wanted to play. People started seeing me in a different way and it"s great.
TBM: So if you could be in any play, what part would it be?
Victoria Yeates: Right now? I"d actually like to play Lady Macbeth opposite the guy who"s playing John Proctor, Eoin Slattery.
TBM: The terrible events in The Crucible all took place a very long time ago and it"s now 60 years since Arthur Miller witnessed the parallels in McCarthyism. Is the play still relevant today?
Victoria Yeates: It"s still completely relevant. The more we got into rehearsals, the more it became clear that following Brexit and the election of Trump, the more people were divided. And the whole alternative facts thing, the girls in the play lying in court, it"s a kind of disabling astonishment that comes over people. Fake news runs right through the play. They"re so overwhelmed because they can"t quite believe what"s happening; they become inactive. Arthur Miller said that you can always tell the political environment of a country if The Crucible is staged. Because there"s a reason why it"s put on and you can only put it on when it is relevant now.
TBM: Sister Winifred is a fantastically popular character in Call the Midwife, do you find that you are recognised in the street?
Victoria Yeates: I am. I've been recognised in Paris, in Germany and I forget that it"s on over there. With my big smile it seems that I've got one of those faces that people know. And I see people checking their phones to do a little Google and going "oh, yes, that"s her". It"s a bit odd but people come up and say nice things. It"s just such a popular show. Stephen (McGann, Dr. Turner) is always telling us viewing figures and it"s something like 12 million downloads and that"s only here. It"s something you can"t fathom. You know, we just go to a car park in London and get on with it. I wanted to play someone who is very open; someone who you can see the goodness shine out of. Everyone wants to play dark and complex roles but it"s nice to see somebody who is really lovely but who is also young and confused trying to grapple with ideas in the Bible that conflict with her personality. It"s especially interesting becoming a nun in the 50s and 60s because so much was changing. She"s supposed to be - trying to be - this nun and there"s a lot of spirit in her.
TBM: What has been your craziest "Midwife" moment?
Victoria Yeates: The trip to South Africa, without a doubt. It"s the most beautiful place I"ve ever been but there"s also a lot of pain there and you feel quite conflicted when you"re there. I think my favourite moment was at the end of the shoot. We"d all been together for a month and then we were sitting in the open back of the van –Jenny Agutter, Linda Bassett, the other girls and me. The sun was setting and there were thousands of zebras running around wild and I thought "wow, this is really special". We didn"t want any moment to end. Then of course Paul (Housden, a musician) and I got engaged there so that makes it really special and we do want to go back. And then, when we watched the scene when Barbara and Tom got engaged out there, it was weird because it was like art imitating life.
TBM: If you could bring one "Midwife" character on stage with you, who would it be?
Victoria Yeates: Oh, that"s so hard! Do you know what? Probably Linda Bassett (Nurse Crane) because I admire her work. She"s a phenomenal actress and so fun, she"s such a lovely person.
TBM: You"ve delivered dozens of babies on screen. How would you get on if you found yourself faced with the real life situation?
Victoria Yeates: Well, you know we are quite true to what happens. I would have learned quite a lot over the last few years. I probably would fare better than somebody who hasn"t been in Call the Midwife but I"d have to remember one of the stories I"ve done and when you say "pant" and when to push. I know how to get baby out if it"s a normal birth – you"ve got to yank it and then twist it round. But I would really be a last resort.
TBM: You will be doing a fair bit of driving up and down the country when you"re on tour. What do you listen to in the car when you"re on your own?
Victoria Yeates: Actually I like the radio. I like Radio 4 and I really like Smooth and Magic. If I was on my i-Pod I"d probably be listening to Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush and David Bowie – my favourite, favourite.
TBM: Have you got anything lined up that you can tell us about for when The Crucible finishes?
Victoria Yeates: Ohh, sorry, I can't say, I can't say anything! But it"s all going very well… but there will be a Call the Midwife Christmas special.
The Crucible plays Theatre Royal Brighton from 24th to 29th April 2017. CLICK HERE for more info.