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Q&A with Joanna Bending of Actors from the London Stage 

Actress talks travel, Macbeth and witch dilemmas

It's time for Actors from the London Stage to take a bow in the Q.C. The British Shakespeare troupe just wrapped up its nine-week national tour at UNC Charlotte with a self-directed, stripped-down staging of Macbeth. The five actors, who received a standing ovation for their bravura performance at Robinson Hall, played to packed theaters at seven college campuses across the country.

The ensemble is part of Actors from the London Stage's 40-year tradition of bringing Shakespeare to college classrooms and theaters. They rehearse in England for four weeks, and then fly to the United States to tour, carrying just one large suitcase to hold all their props for a full-length Shakespeare production without scenery or elaborate costumes. This year's AFTL's Macbeth troupe included Annie Aldington, Charles Armstrong, Joanna Bending, Michael Palmer and Ben Warwick.

Juggling eight roles, Bending rotated between intense, foolish and philosophical characters. She said one of the biggest challenges the troupe had was deciding how to play the three witches that stir up mayhem — they ended up portraying them as "slightly zombie-like seers."

Bending, who studied at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has extensive stage, television and film experience, will resume her role in the acclaimed play, Kingmaker, upon her return to London.

We spoke to her the day before the actors flew back across the pond to perform Macbeth at Arts in Covent Garden, an intimate theater in the West End, before disbanding.

Creative Loafing: Have you enjoyed your American tour? Joanna Bending: The audiences everywhere have been so generous. There seems to be so much positivity and support of our shows at all the universities. [It's been] quite overwhelming and makes me admire the American spirit! I am a real American convert now. Would someone please adopt me, marry me or kidnap me so I can stay?

What's it like traveling all over this country with four other actors? I have belly laughed and in fact cried with laughter every day. We are so fortunate to get on so well as a group. We have even developed a ridiculous imaginary family — each of us separate characters — and go into role play mode, trying to make each other laugh each time we have a long travel day.

What drew you to auditioning for Macbeth and touring the United States? I have to say what drew me to this job was more the life experience that a job like this would give me rather than a career decision. And I was right to want that. This job and indeed America have not let me down.

What do you like about performing stripped-down Shakespeare theater? I like the simplicity of the work, the transparency I should rather say. I think actually the story becomes clearer when there are just a few people working hard to really embody each character. There is no space for faff or fluff.

What don't you like about it? I really missed having a director. It's very hard to step out of yourself and watch the play from an outsider's point of view. We got a bit lost sometimes in rehearsals.

What other Shakespeare plays have you performed in? I haven't really done much Shakespeare since being at RADA — while there I drew the short straw of having to be in Julius Caesar with all the men in my year, while the rest of the girls got to do a fantastic all female rip-roaring comedy set in Glasgow full of joy and humor. I did another production of Macbeth a few years ago with Robert Pattinson, just before he started filming the Twilight sagas. I played Lady Macduff in that one too. Maybe one day someone will trust me to play Lady Macbeth.

Do you have a favorite character you play in Macbeth, or did it change from show to show on the tour? I love Malcolm [King Duncan's oldest son and the heir to the throne of Scotland]. I play him as an 18-year-old boy — an upper crust toff who is a bit of an idiot but his heart is definitely in the right place. He cares. He will definitely grow up to be a good King.

Is it challenging to play one of the witches? The witches were the hardest part of the rehearsal process. We couldn't find anything that seemed to work. We played around with lots of ideas — drug addicts, homeless vagabonds, little evil kids, innocent kids, old crones, society ladies. Finally, we just stripped it right back to simple, slightly zombie-like seers.

What are your plans when you return to England? Kingmaker, whom I co-star in opposite Alan Cox, is transferring to the West End in May to coincide with our General Elections in the United Kingdom. Perfect timing as I'll go home to re-rehearse in April. When do acting jobs ever fit so perfectly timing-wise? Not often I can tell you!

What are you taking back with you, if anything, from this experience? Courage that I have something valuable to impart in a classroom, love in my heart, a genuine respect for Americans, lifelong friends, and enough laughter to last me quite a while.

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