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INTERVIEW: Victoria Yeates on playing Imo in new RSC play Ben and Imo – exploring the tempestuous relationship between Benjamin Britten & Imogen Holst

New RSC play Ben and Imo explores the tempestuous but unrequited relationship between Benjamin ‘Ben’ Britten and Imogen ‘Imo’ Holst as they worked on opera Gloriana for the late Queen’s coronation. Here Victoria Yeates tells Gill Sutherland why she’s so excited to be playing the hugely underrated Imo.

You’ve just been in preview with Ben and Imo – are you still working things through?

You don’t know how funny it is until you have an audience – [playwright] Mark Ravenhill is very funny but it’s also dark. It’s working out where that shift is as it flips very quickly between comedy and drama – there are sharp changes. It does get quite dark so some of the laughter is from anxiety – so how do we lead the audience away from that and steer it back into the right pace and tempo is what we’re working out. But it’s going well.

Victoria at the Red House.
Victoria at the Red House.

There is just the two of you onstage, that must be a lot of pressure.

It is intense doing a two-hander but this is the most intense one I’ve done. Because of the subject matter they have a very intense and complicated relationship. Also we never leave the stage – we do all the scene changes ourselves. I might run off, get changed and come back on again. The text is also very tense, rich and detailed, it’s an amazingly written play but quite demanding, technically and emotionally. We go through a bit roller-coaster ride by the end, it flips – there are shifts – and what Erica [Whyman, who directs] calls corners, where they have an argument or are head over heels for each other then another argument – it doesn’t stop, which makes it interesting to watch.

Victoria Yeates and Samuel Barnett as Imo and Ben
Victoria Yeates and Samuel Barnett as Imo and Ben

Are nerves a thing – do you feel that pressure?

I sort of got my nerves out the way for the opening night with the dress rehearsal. I’ve just been really enjoying us being up there with an audience. We felt ready for an audience – it’s all there. We can just look at each other and play. That’s what’s great about acting, and Sam [co-star Sam Barnett] is such a brilliant actor, so it’s just a joy because we go on, we’re just there with each other and we go for it.

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