Interview: ‘Unsoiled’ Cast

Sophie Macdonald 5 March 2022
Image Credit: Maria Woodford

Although the cast of Unsoiled comprises sixteen people, they are each not without individual shine. Fantastically written by Ewan Martin-Kane, Unsoiled depicts the hardship the people of Briggsley village encounter when they come to learn that their soil, ploughed generation after generation, has become impenetrable. With the threat of famine and starvation overhanging, one is left feeling guilty for letting a chuckle escape. However, as was skilfully demonstrated by the cast, Unsoiled not only commands your sympathy but your laughter. Luckily for me, laughing at Unsoiled didn’t quite stop as the curtain was drawn: I was soon laughing with the cast as I interviewed them.

Liking that her character “spent most of the time asleep” or with “a basket on [her] head,” Katy Lawrence’s entertaining depiction of Nina and Sam’s mother inspired many of the play’s laughs. Describing the play as “eclectic, fun and batsh*t crazy,” Katy noted that the message of the play is about “working together as a family and community” was reflected by the cast’s off-screen closeness. This sentiment was also shared by Isobel Lawrence, who played the Man for Catastrophe hilariously and with ease, commenting that “it was brilliant and fun to bring the words of the script to life, and it was great to be part of such a big cast.” Both Katy and Isobel also attributed their attraction to Unsoiled to the directors and script. After “read[ing] the script and lov[ing] it,” Isobel was intrigued by the fact that although the play “isn’t tied to historical time, it is yet felt folk and medieval,” and, having previously worked with co-director Anna-Maria Woodrow Katy was both excited “to work with Anna again, and by Ewan’s script.” Jago Wainwright, who played Sam, also thought the script was “interesting and lyrical in a way that was unlike anything else [he] had ever written.”

The directors, who must be commended for managing such a sizeable cast, were also praised by every single cast member; among them Bella Rew, who played the Man for Peace and Good Order, stating that she loved “being involved in a new, student-written, play.” As well as being very fond of the “great big hat with a huge feather on it [that] made [her] feel really tall,” Bella highlighted the message of the play: that “a community can only be strong when it listens to and embraces every part of it” can be mapped onto any catastrophe (or, as The man for Catastrophe rather have it known, a crisis). She also enjoyed that the social types represented in the play can be “observed in the world, and in Cambridge.” Erasmus student Lola Itzá López, who played Feckless, also appreciated how “every single element contributes to the play’s own reality – the set, lighting, costumes, actors and Anna-Maria’s music.” Lola also shared her interpretation of the play. Believing that Unsoiled is about “disconnection,” she comments that “the characters are unable to establish sincere communication in the same way as the ground rejects them.” Lola also said that the overriding message of the play is “probably to find ways of creating human bonds to react against the crisis.”

Lauding the script as “beautifully lyrical,” Oscar Matthews, who portrayed the soil-hoarder Whilom with an eerie brilliance, said he was drawn to the “comic, unhinged, and villainous” nature of his character. Describing Whilom as “funny, opportunistic, and a survivor”, but also as a “nasty, greedy, and monstrous” character, Oscar claimed the biggest challenge was “finding a voice for him.” Detailing the care with which he worked on Whilom’s “strange accent”, Oscar wanted him to be “grounded in reality and not just a caricature.” With the help of the play’s “lyricism,” Oscar also said that by “projecting the scripts verbose language,” he sought to depict Whilom as “intelligible and as a real person.” Tasked with the role of the villain, Oscar hoped that mastering these qualities would give his character a “growing voice and dynamism,” and that it certainly did.

Contesting Oscar’s status as the villain, Jake Turner, who played the serial-wisher Brangwen with nuanced brutishness, believed “he [was] the villain of the piece,” and thought that it “was interesting to play the villain and make the audience feel sympathy for him.” Jake threw himself into the part in the same way that his character was “thrust into a position of responsibility and duty.” Outlining his attempts to “find the real Brangwen; the vulnerable, lonely, insecure child who doesn’t know how to live and is drowning in expectation,” Jake was intrigued by the depth of his character. Describing his embodiment of Brangwen as a “process of peeling back the layers to show that, even though he does kill people, he is really just a scared kid,” Jake hoped that the audience “decides if he is good or bad through his actions, instead of defining him by what others think of him.” Labelling Brangwen as “one of the most interesting and fulfilling characters I’ve played,” Jake’s passion was definitely projected onto the stage.

Also commenting on the “child-like” qualities of his character, Jake Fenton, who played Pete, a naive farm boy, expertly highlighted that “switching into impressionable man was a lot of fun.” Jake noted that he was intrigued to portray “someone innocent slowly collapse under the weight of what he is expected to do; someone who tries to maintain his child-like innocence throughout and doesn’t realise that he is being taken on a life or death mission.” He also enjoyed playing a character with such a “lovely character arc” and said “it is exciting to portray the gravity and impact of the situation dawning in on him.” Jake also outlined the challenge of “trying believably portray him as human and not just a stock character; as a kid who is way beyond his depth”, but, although this may have been challenging, to an audience member Jake executed this with ease. Jago Wainwright also commented on his character arc, with Sam starting the play as a “childish boy who thinks himself a poet,” and ends it as a person whose optimism is “worn down by the famine.”

Orla’s “internal conflict between being vulnerable and being strong” also attracted Rebecca Davies to the character, who played Orla with a gentle intensity. Rebecca also enjoyed portraying her as “vulnerable and showing a tenderness with Maya”, but also a “witty and sarcastic against characters like Brangwen.” In this way, she liked the creative freedom awarded to her in depicting a girl who is “feeling things for the first time.” The biggest challenge that came with playing Orla, Rebecca described was “making the emotions between she and Nina feel natural and subtle instead of a cliched lesbian romance.” Maya Calcraft, who portrayed Nina’s defiant stubbornness forcefully, also explained that it was important to give her relationship with Orla “a truth in a way that didn’t feel melodramatic.” Maya also liked her character because she “is more than just a soothsayer: she fights what she believes in and is brave in her relationship.” Maya also believes there is a great “humanity to her character” and worked to accurately portray the teenage awkwardness that comes with a first relationship.

It was wonderful to see that the cast of Unsoiled enjoyed entertaining their audience as much as I enjoyed being entertained. Returning to the Corpus Playroom for their final performance tonight, I urge you to all go and enjoy it as much as I did.