Interview with Downton Abbey star Emma Lowndes

Jonathan Guy Lewis and Emma Lowndes
Jonathan Guy Lewis and Emma Lowndes

You might think that after two years in period drama that Downton Abbey star Emma Lowndes would look to do something more contemporary.

But she has taken a step even further back in time to appear in The Herbal Bed coming to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate running from Friday February 5 to Saturday February 27.

Emma said: “I am playing Susannah Hall, born Susannah Shakespeare and there is a romantic story. She is then accused of adultery with her neighbour. The show then turns into a courtroom drama.

“It is a shift which makes this show a challenge. Peter Whelan, as the writer, while he has used Jacobean language, he has made it quite accessible to the audience.”

Despite The Herbal Bed being the first in a series of plays themed around The Bard, Emma herself has appeared in very little of his work.

She added: “I would love to do more. I went to RADA and studied a lot of Shakespeare there. But I haven’t done much Shakespeare work. I played Isabella in Measure for Measure.

“I’d like to think that I haven’t done more because when the opportunities have come up, I was otherwise working on. I have even worked at The Globe and was doing a modern show.”

However despite not having not performed much of William Shakespeare’s work, she has a clear idea of why his work continues to be performed 400 years after his death.

Emma said: “I think Shakespeare has lasted so long because he truly understood human nature.

“It is also when you get past the language, you find that it is very speakable and reflects how we talk today.

“People can also relate to the situations and see their struggles reflected by the characters they are watching. I think it is quite a cathartic experience.

“But you also want to know what happens next. It is like watching something like Breaking Bad now.”

We are speaking to Emma during the final week of rehearsals for the show. The players are rehearsing at the theatre and Emma has been impressed with the facilities at Royal & Derngate.

She said: “This is my first time in Northampton. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I had been cast but it is a massive space with enough room for two stages and a cinema.

“I like the Royal stage, it is a beautiful stage with a proscenium arch and I think it will suit this show really well.”

She is a regular face on television away from the corsets of Downton Abbey. She has wracked up parts in drama series Cranford and Jane Eyre, while also guest stints on series such as Silent Witness and The Musketeers.

And all of this on top of regular stints treading the boards.

Emma said: “I do like to do a mixture of television and theatre. That hasn’t been quite possible recently as I have just had a child and going on tour is difficult.

“But I like the camaraderie of a rehearsal room, the feeling of getting to know all of your fellow actors before working on this project.

“I do like working on television because of the crews who all work so hard.”

She will probably be most familiar as Margie Drewe in the popular ITV show and it is a role which she was pleased to have taken on.

“Downton Abbey was something that came about because I auditioned for it and got lucky.

“It was great to be part of something that was truly global.

“I was initially going in for it and thought that if it was just one episode then that was great.

“There were a lot of things to wrap up in series six and it was nice that Julian Fellowes thought that I was one of those things that needed to be wrapped up.

“It has also been lovely in that people I have known for a long time like Michelle Dockery and Jo Froggatt have become household names. Not that they weren’t working actors before. but Downton Abbey made them huge names.”

Tickets to see The Herbal Bed cost between £10 and £29 and can be booked by calling the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.