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Spiegel-Wagner takes on the Queen of Crime



Sharon Spiegel-Wagner has become well known to us more recently in musical comedy theatre such as Locked Upside Down, but she’s now venturing onto the stage as the lead in Agatha Christie’s courtroom drama Witness for the Protection. The SA Jewish Report caught up with her.

Audiences have recently got used to seeing you in light musical comedy theatre, which you have taken part in writing. What does this change feel like to you?

Indeed, this is a large shift from what I’m used to portraying and from what audiences expect from me. It’s exhilarating and terrifying. I’m blessed to be able to flex other acting muscles and, of course, there’s plenty of doubt, insecurity, and fear. But these things are there only to help me grow in my career and in my understanding of the world of theatrical expression. It’s been a ride, I tell you!

Which are you more comfortable doing?

We’re naturally more comfortable doing more of the same things over time, but I don’t ever want to get too cozy because that can breed stagnation. Even if I feel more confident in comedy, I still work hard not to get overly sure of myself. There’s always room for more nuance and discovery. The moment one thinks one has it all worked out is precisely the moment one can stop learning and progressing.

You’ve mastered television, theatre, musicals, and serious, film. Which do you prefer and why?

I truly love them all. In a creative setting – any creative setting – I’m the most free. It’s the content and people I work with that shape the joy and ease of the final product.

Describe your character in Witness for the Prosecution.

I can’t say too much! It’s all a mystery. She’s a foreigner from Berlin. She’s an actress, and she’s glamorous and strong-willed. She’s magnetic, calculating, and smart. She’s written in a way that leaves the audience guessing. And much of her purpose in the piece is to elicit speculation, mystery, and intrigue. So she’s even a mystery to me. Playing a woman whom even I can’t fully understand has been interesting.

How do you feel about her?

The only information an actor gets about character is what’s written on the page. The actor relies on research and his/her own imagination and experience to create a fully believable human being on stage. I have a deep empathy for all my characters. They are all puzzles for me to solve. Romaine has an enigma about her that I find intoxicating. But her humanity is what I need to tap into to make her mine and make her relatable to the audience. And her essence – as you’ll see when you come watch – is pure magic.

How did you get into this role, and how do you go back to being you?

A lot of it resides in posture, breathing, and vocal inflections. Romaine breathes differently to me, stands differently. She has a German accent, so the way I speak when performing isn’t very Sharon. All these tools help me to inhabit a different persona. Her situation and the time period also informs me further. Imagination is my biggest asset. I visualise her world before I enter a rehearsal or performance space. My colleagues provide great support as they inhabit their own characters. I get wrenched out of this frame of mind the minute I get home, and hear, “Mommy!” So, my kids and my husband keep me grounded in reality. I’m grateful for that anchor in my life.

What did you particularly enjoy or find tough in working with a “Queen of Cunning” script?

Agatha. Dame Agatha. Every time we played a scene, reread a line, some new thought or hidden meaning surfaced. It’s uncanny! She writes in a maze. You have to keep searching for different pathways and clues to understand the story and indeed the mystery. It’s been a glorious experience, and working alongside Alan Swerdlow is a double whammy bonus because his remarkable intelligence and knowledge holds us all gently and gracefully.

It’s a fairly large cast, many of whom have been in the industry for decades. What’s that like?

It’s simply divine. I get to work with colleagues across the board – young first timers in theatre, and the most distinguished, experienced actors. What more could a girl ask for? It’s sensational working with the incomparable Graham Hopkins, Peter Terry, Craig Jackson, and Mike Hough. And the up-and-coming talent is equally astounding. It’s a whopper of a cast.

And, once again, you’re being directed by Alan Swerdlow. How does that work for you?

As Romaine says, “It suits me very well.” I have the greatest respect and fondness for Alan. He’s truly a man I love working with, and he has become a dear friend. I’m quite precious about him since we’ve been collaborating for so long. He gets me, tames my fears, calms my madness, and most of all, believes in me.

How close is this to the original book, and if there are changes, why were they made?

There are some changes, all carefully done to serve dramatic purposes and to make things practical for production regarding budget, running time, and so on. But even with some changes, there’s no compromise on quality and standard.

What kind of audience are you expecting, and what will they take home?

I’m expecting everyone to come! This play is a puzzle for us and the audience. Who doesn’t love a murder-mystery/courtroom drama. It’s full of all the good stuff. It’s quirky, nuanced, full of suspense, drama, and intrigue. I’m hoping that the audience will get involved because it has an important part to play. I can say no more, or I’ll be giving away too much

What comes after this?

Nothing in writing at the moment, but that’s an actors life! As far as I’m concerned, it’s only upwards and onwards from here.

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