"Disgusted by a rise of a growing intolerance"

Emma Paetz - Photo by Manuel Harlan
Emma Paetz - Photo by Manuel Harlan

The UK has become home for Emma Paetz who makes her Chichester Festival Theatre debut in Nicholas Wright’s new play 8 Hotels, directed by Richard Eyre.

“I am originally from Canada, but I came to the UK about six years ago to study at the Guildhall… and I stuck around! I guess things just started working out.”

As she says, luckily the Canadians are pretty close to the British: “There is a similar sense of humour… but really I love the work that I am getting over here.”

And Emma can see herself staying much longer: “I have not really worked in Canada. I don’t have the same sense of connection with the theatre or the film industry as I do over here.”

8 Hotels came up through Emma’s agent – and she enjoyed a meeting with Nicholas Wright and Richard Eyre: “It all happened very quickly. I got the job later that same day which is very rare!”

The play starts in 1944 in America.

Celebrated actor, singer and political campaigner Paul Robeson – forever associated with Ol’ Man River – is touring the country as Othello.

His Desdemona is the brilliant young actress Uta Hagen. Her husband, the Broadway star José Ferrer, plays Iago.

All the actors are friends. But in mid-century American society, they are not all equals.

As the tour goes on, the boundaries between the on-stage passions and their off-stage lives begin to blur.

Soon the chemistry between Robeson and Hagen and the rivalry between Robeson and Ferrer is every bit as dangerous as that between their famous characters. But there are dangers from the outside too.

“Reading the script, I really loved the play”, says Emma who is playing Uta: “I think what I loved most about it is that there seemed to be a lot of big epic themes but Nicholas has really cleverly distilled them into the relationships between the characters, and the result is very intimate.

“I think the overarching theme is something one of the characters Margaret Webster says, and that is when she talks about being disgusted by a rise of a growing intolerance. I think that that line really hits home. Nicholas has said that when he wrote that line he was thinking about now.”

Emma confesses the role is a little intimidating: “She is such a respected and renowned figure in the theatre, but to play her is very exciting as well.

“I have been studying her and her methods, her techniques, and it has been so interesting delving into those techniques.”

There is a sense of needing to go beyond the script: “It is based on real people and based on a real time.

“But also Nicholas has been so diligently accurate.

“A lot of what happens is down to exact perspectives, and you look at it and when you do the research you can almost find the exact interview that Nicholas used, and I think that is really exciting.

“I think Uta is an incredibly dynamic figure. She speaks her mind. She is also opinionated. The play goes from 1946-56 and she goes from being 25 to 36 which are her formative years.

“It is about how she is not the same person at the start of the play as she is at the end of the play; it is about how much her life has changed and about how much she has changed, and I think that is all part of what makes it such an interesting play.”

Tickets from the CFT.

Plenty of fun at the Arundel Festival

8 Hotels offers fascinating evening in Chichester's Minerva Theatre

Summer holiday fun