The actress is currently starring in Chris Bush‘s new play examining women in politics. She spoke to Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon about the play and women in politics… 

Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for talking to me. Could you explain a bit about what Steel is all about? My pleasure! Thanks so much for having me. Steel is a look at politics today which is told through the journeys of two outsiders who are trying to make it 30 years apart, and in two different spaces – one as local council level and the other being national political level, not an MP but as metro mayor. They’re outsiders because they’re both women, they’re both women of colour and they both present a challenge to the established party – mostly male, mostly white, Northern, with generational differences. One is an outsider to Sheffield, the other is from Sheffield but because of her gender and race, is still an outsider. It’s about the Labour movement and where it’s at, where’s its ability to adopt or integrate newer voices is at. It’s kind of specific to the North, because it talks a lot about a sense of community which you really find here, but there’s also a national conversation about what the core values of Labour are.

What did you first think of the play when you initially read it? I was just so caught by the subject matter. I’m so interested in politics and political theatre, and I just thought there was such a rich conversation to it. I actually didn’t even think about it being a two-hander until I was on the train to start rehearsals and I started to panic about all the lines I was going to have to learn!

Could you describe your characters? What have they been like to play? Vanessa is someone i’m similar to, she’s from London and I relate to her energetically and to her ‘mania’ of always being on the go, she’s a very fast-paced person and although she was born in Sheffield, she isn’t from the North and neither am I – and I think you sometimes feel that if you aren’t from the North, you don’t understand it. I really appreciate the sense of friendliness and cohesion here, and I wish I knew what that was like – London is a very different culture! Josie on the other hand is different to me, she’s a much softer and gentler person – she’s not so empowered, she grew up as a mixed race women in a white, working class community. You get the sense that she’s just wanted a quiet life and to not stand out, she’s not a shrinking violet by any means – she probably just doesn’t have a lot of black people around her to form a sense of identity and inclusion. One character is all about confrontation and the other doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Given the play looks at women in politics – what impact do you think women have had in the world of politics up until now? Obviously we do have prominent female MPs, and we’ve had two female Prime Ministers – so you could take the individual achievements of those and look at what they’ve done well… But I think that generally we still have a way to go, it’d be really interesting to see a female party leader on the Left. I also think that some of the working practices in politics are very geared towards a male-oriented audience, like votes conducted at 10pm at night and debates that happen in clubs and restaurants… Oh, and the conducts of the MPs in the Houses of Parliament is often horrendous. I guess that the more female MPs who come through will mean more role models, there’s more to do in terms of getting a ‘feminised’ approach to politics – which starts with less bullying and boorish behaviour in debates, and less of a ‘lad’ culture which is aggressive and combative.

How has it been working with Rebecca Frecknall on the production? Fantastic! Rebecca is a great director, she’s very talented. She’s very good dramaturgically, and so intelligent and insightful, she’s able to read a script and get to the heart of it and get what the language is trying to offer. It’s not been an easy piece to do, it’s has complex ideas and complex ways of forming thoughts so getting to the heart of that has been tricky but she’s been amazing. We actually first met on her first ever job, she was assisting on a play I was in about eight years ago.

What can audiences expect from the production? To feel challenged and enlightened. People will have a lot of questions but they’ll also have had a laugh – this is a really funny play, Chris [Bush] is a very witty writer. I’d like them to feel entertained and moved, too. There are two sides to everything the play is saying; no one is right or wrong.

By Emma Clarendon

Steel continues to play at the Sheffield Theatre Studio until the 6th October. For more information visit: https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/steel