Actress Barbara Marten loves playing a woman who dares to confront a king in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.
She plays Paulina, a courtier who tells her king Leontes (Daniel Lapaine) that his jealous fury against his queen Hermione (Claire Price) is completely wrong and is ripping his family and kingdom apart.
Leeds-born Barbara said: “I love Paulina. She’s on my list of parts I really want to play. It’s great when that comes up.
“She is a strong woman, a fantastic character in terms of writing for the women of the time. She isn’t restrained by any idea of what a woman should be at that time.
“The king attacks her husband and penalises him because he can’t rule his wife. She’s the only person in the first part of the play who walks into the midst of all this awful, brutish behaviour and tells the truth very bravely.
“She’s incredibly faithful and champions the cause of the queen, who is accused of adultery and conspiracy. Paulina becomes her advocate and speaks for her. She’s trying to help and say, ‘Come on this is rubbish’.
“He could say ‘Off with their heads’ and that is why everybody else is being so careful and cautious. She does have this plain speaking and honesty and courage which is great.”
Barbara says that Leontes “turns on a sixpence” into a jealous rage that seems to come out of nowhere.
Paulina is shocked because she idolises the royal pair. “She really likes them and thinks they are a perfect couple. He is lovely, generous and warm and she is beautiful, gentle and womanly.
“It’s like there’s been a palace coup and he’s been replaced by a cruel despot. This is not the person they know. She wonders how on earth to get through to him to get the other person back.”
The play is in three parts, starting with the drama, which ends with the queen aparently dying, her newborn daughter abandoned on a foreign shore and their son dead from grief.
The action then turns to the teenage princess, who is discovered living among shepherds not knowing who she is, and the third when the family are finally reunited.
Paulina returns to help the healing process and is able to bring back the queen in a seemingly miraculous way.
Barbara said: “She has extraordinary strength of character which I find incredibly admirable in a woman anyway.
“There’s not many of those parts in Shakespeare and I’m absolutely thrilled to be having a go at it.”
She is also enjoying a return to Sheffield Theateres after Top Girls in the mid 1980s. She said: “I remember the city was gregarious and I loved it.”
Barbara says she is used to being recognised from her role in Casualty as Sister Eve Montgomery 14 years ago. “That’s the thing about those programmes, you’re in people’s living room at a particular time every week, so you become so familiar.”
More recently she starred in Channel 4 drama The Mill, set in the real Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire and based on real events there during the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century.
She played Hannah Greg, the wife of the owner, another woman she admires, who campaigned against slavery “She was a fantastic woman who championed educating the kids. She taught them to read and write. Of all the mills to work at, at that time, it was the one to work in.”
n The Winter’s Tale finishes its run at the Crucible on Saturday. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk