In her professional debut, Morfydd Clark was upstaged by a lamb. She’d nabbed the title part in Blodeuwedd – “it’s the Welsh Juliet” – staged on a Snowdonian hillside in 2013. But as if elaborate Welsh-language poetry and swarms of midges weren’t challenging enough, one evening “this lamb came on – it was in July when they’re really not little and cute anymore – and baaa-ed loudly through the love scene.”
Lamb aside, Clark has had little problem holding her own on stage, and these days her fellow performers include Glenda Jackson, Dominic West and Rhys Ifans. She’s played the actual Juliet opposite Freddie Fox’s Romeo, won praise from critics in Gary Owen’s Violence and Son at the Royal Court, and starred in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Donmar. She rounded off 2016 by playing Cordelia opposite Glenda Jackson’s King Lear at the Old Vic.
“I knew her as a politician and found her fascinating; she wiped the floor with anyone, because she can perform,” says Clark, who was thrilled to play her daughter, especially getting a “cuddle” each night while playing dead.
Do we need to see more gender-blind casting? “With Shakespeare, there’s no reason not to,” Clark insists, before adding that it’s no substitute for writing towering parts for women. “I want men to be asking to play great female parts!”
Still, she’s had no problem winning juicy roles, and they keep her coming back to the theatre. Clark has given notable screen performances in The Falling and opposite Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship, but while she loves films, “as a girl, often the characters you’re auditioning for in the theatre are more significant”. She was raised in Cardiff, and dropped out of school at 16, having struggled with dyslexia and ADHD. “I had zero confidence, I didn’t do well, I was in trouble a lot.”
Her mother, who works in child development, told her: “You’re not sitting here, wasting your life”, and so Clark applied to the National Youth Theatre of Wales, the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and Welsh National Youth Opera. She got in to all three. “It was totally life-changing. Not just being on stage, but spending time with adults who didn’t just tell me off.”
After attending the National Youth Theatre of Wales, she studied at Drama Centre London – a wrench to leave her beloved Cardiff, but now very much home. In 2017, she will be seen in Interlude in Prague, a film about Mozart, and is currently auditioning for plays. She says: “I’ve done two Shakespeare tragedies, so I’d desperately like to do comedy. It would be nice not to die.”
Three more to watch
■ Though not long graduated from Rada, Tamara Lawrance has been busy: after Unreachable at the Royal Court and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National, in February she returns to the NT to play Viola in Twelfth Night to Tamsin Greig’s Malvolia.
■ Women’s Hour put Sh!t Theatre’s Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit on the radar with their lively take on modern feminism, while their show Letters to Windsor House, a sideways look at the housing crisis, was a big hit at Edinburgh.
■ Alexander Zeldin’s play about zero-hours contracts, Beyond Caring, proved potently timely at the Yard theatre in 2014. His second, Love, set in temporary accommodation over the festive period, is at the National until 10 January.