Stars of summer: Florence Shaw, Claire Rushbrook, Arthur Hughes and Patricia Allison

·10 min read

Florence Shaw

Vocalist of south London post-punk band Dry Cleaning

What have you got lined up this summer?
So many things. June alone is fairly mad. We’re supporting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Brixton Academy, then playing Primavera in Barcelona. We’re playing Grace Jones’s Meltdown at the Southbank. And of course Glastonbury. It’s hard to quantify just how surreal that is. I used to go a lot as a teenager and my brain’s a little fried that we’re playing on the Park Stage.

Do you have much festival-playing experience despite Covid?
We played Green Man and Latitude quite early on, in 2019. And late last year, we played End of the Road. That was overwhelming. People were absolutely losing their mind to our music – crowdsurfing and all that business. It was really mad to come blinking into the daylight [after lockdown] and play shows like that.

Shaw performing with Dry Cleaning at Wide Awake festival, London.
Shaw performing with Dry Cleaning at Wide Awake festival, London. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

How do festivals compare to playing indoor venues?
At festivals, it’s more chaos, but good chaos. You have to think on your feet a bit more. You don’t have hours and hours to prepare. And playing outdoors brings all kinds of unexpected things. Like wind. If you make the mistake of wearing something floaty, you’ll spend the whole gig trying to hold your dress down.

Have you learned that through hard experience?
Just now we played Waking Windows festival in Vermont. It was 35 degrees and I was wearing this big sort of muumuu thing. I thought I was so clever, but then a storm was coming in and it became more about dress management than the gig itself.

Are British guitar bands having a renaissance?
I would say there’s a renaissance in interest in British bands. I’ve never known there to be a shortage of bands, but I have known there to be a shortage of interest in bands. I can imagine labels often prefer a solo artist, they’re easier to manage, whereas in a band there are a lot of opinions and they can often pull in different directions. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It can often lead to more interesting, layered ideas.

What cultural events are you looking forward to this summer?
The festival season is a chance for bands to see other bands – that’s one of the really nice things about it, because usually we’ve got too much on. One person I’m really hoping to catch is Jessica Pratt – I’m a big, big fan. And I’m dying to see Charlotte Adigéry live. I really love her new album [Topical Dancer, with Bolis Pupul], so I hope we wind up in the same place. And the film Everything Everywhere All At Once – the one where [Michelle Yeoh] has sausage fingers in the trailer – I’m dying to see that. KF

Claire Rushbrook

Claire Rushbrook at the British Independent Film awards, December 2021.
Claire Rushbrook at the British Independent Film awards, December 2021. Photograph: Future Publishing/Getty Images

Claire Rushbrook, 50, is best known for her role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies. Her TV work includes Doctor Who, Linda Green and a Bafta-nominated performance in My Mad Fat Diary. This summer, she stars in writer James Graham’s six-part BBC One drama, Sherwood

How would you describe Sherwood?
It’s a thriller that explores the repercussions of the miners’ strike and the effects of a catastrophic event in a tight-knit community. My character Cathy is estranged from her sister, played by Lesley Manville, because during the strike our husbands made different choices about their political allegiances. It’s about normal people hit by terrible circumstances, written very sensitively.

How was working with Lesley Manville?
Despite the great pain of our characters’ relationship, we laughed our heads off. Lesley has long been one of my favourite actresses and she’s obviously searingly brilliant, but such a laugh too.

You’re currently starring in Middle at the National. How’s that going?
It’s the first theatre I’ve done for five years, and I’m loving it. It’s an exquisite play by David Eldridge and I’m really enjoying the truthful naturalism of it. It’s about a married couple who reach a crossroads in their relationship one night. We’re thrilled by how it’s been received. It has started lots of conversations about marriages in the bar afterwards. David has said he hopes it gets couples talking.

You also co-starred in the film drama Ali & Ava, with your Sherwood castmate Adeel Akhtar.
It’s a most welcome love story about two older people finding a connection that tentatively blossoms into something beautiful. It’s the sort of part I’d never expect to come my way. I’ve always been a character actor, and I’m banking on that seeing me through until I’m very old [laughs]. So to play the lead in a romance was quite scary but an absolute joy. As an aside, the soundtrack’s also full of banging tunes.

You’re having a bit of a purple patch, aren’t you?
Things have aligned gorgeously recently. I’m 50 now and feel fortunate that things haven’t slowed down. Long may it continue – but if things are less purple going forward, I’ll still feel very lucky.

What’s on your cultural to-do list this summer?
The Crucible at the National – one of my favourite plays from an exciting creative team. And two new films: Mrs Harris Goes To Paris, because everything Lesley Manville does brings me deep joy, and director Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men. I adored his previous film, Bait. MH

  • Sherwood will air on BBC One in June

Arthur Hughes

Arthur Hughes, 30, is best known for playing Ruairi Donovan in The Archers and disability activist Alan Holdsworth in BBC drama Then Barbara Met Alan. This summer, he takes the title role in the RSC’s Richard III

You’re the first disabled actor to play a title role at the RSC. What does that mean to you?
It’s a big responsibility. Richard III is one of the most famous roles in Shakespeare. I auditioned for drama school with a Richard speech. As a disabled actor, you identify with him because he’s in a system that isn’t built for him. That’s how most disabled people feel.

Why did it take so long?
Good question. For a long time, disability wasn’t seen as cool or bankable or sexy. In wider society, disabled people are still often put last, but this feels like an exciting time to be a disabled actor. There are things happening that will inspire the next generation. Hopefully this will be a precedent for more leading parts. To see a disabled Macbeth, Othello or Juliet: that’s the next step.

Is representation improving?
Having disability in the spotlight on one of the largest stages in the country feels like a step forward, but we’ve got to keep our foot on the pedal.

How are rehearsals for Richard III going?
Really well. I’m currently in Wars of the Roses, also playing Richard. It’s a gift to do both plays back-to-back and understand the full length of his life.

Has he taken over your life?
A bit. It’s quite intense but thankfully the murderous instincts haven’t kicked in yet.

Arthur Hughes in Then Barbara Met Alan.
Arthur Hughes in Then Barbara Met Alan. Photograph: Samuel Dore/BBC/Dragonfly Film & Television Productions Ltd

Tell us about your Richard.
He’s young, so there’s energy and warrior spirit in him. He’s a disabled man in an ableist world. The play’s about how society treats him and what that turns him into. It explores how tyrants are made and how they rise to power.

You have radial dysplasia affecting your right arm. How do you use that in your performance?
Being disabled, a lot of that physical work is already done for me. Just to see my body on stage among many non-disabled bodies is statement enough. There’s fighting in Wars of the Roses where I use my arm to show how Richard exploits the element of surprise. Opponents underestimate him as a threat. In Richard III, we play with how his disability is kept hidden, then exposed at certain points. In the Lady Anne scene, there’s real vulnerability there.

What’s on your cultural to-do list this summer?
Loads, but I’m not going to be able to do most of it. I had tickets to Jerusalem which I’ve had to give away. The Father & The Assassin at the National looks fantastic too. Normally I love festival season, especially Glastonbury. My sister’s going and I’m very jealous. But I will ride again. MH

Patricia Allison

Patricia Allison at the 2021 Venice film festival.
Patricia Allison at the 2021 Venice film festival. Photograph: Maria Moratti/Getty Images

Patricia Allison, 27, is best known as Ola Nyman in Sex Education. This summer, she plays Emmy in A Doll’s House Part 2, Lucas Hnath’s sequel to Ibsen’s masterpiece, at London’s Donmar Warehouse

You’re currently in rehearsals for A Doll’s House Part 2. How’s it going?
Fantastic. I’m learning so much. It’s wonderful to be back in rehearsal rooms post-pandemic. I’m even enjoying commuting in on my bike. It’s lovely getting a sense of normality back. And the play, in my opinion, is like a modern-day Shakespeare.

Is A Doll’s House as relevant as it ever was?
Absolutely. It was groundbreaking when Ibsen wrote it 150 years ago. For the first time, it showed conversations between a husband and wife about power imbalances within their household. Nora decided to leave, not because Torvald was abusive but because she felt stifled and unhappy. That distinction was important. Those conversations about patriarchy and society’s expectations are still happening between the genders now, just in different ways.

Noma Dumezweni plays Nora, your character’s mother. What’s it like working with her?
She’s a legend. I must confess, there have been moments in rehearsal where I miss my line because I’m too busy watching her.

You’re basically Hermione from Harry Potter’s daughter…
Stop, I can’t deal with it [laughs]. It’s the coolest thing ever. I’ve just been pinching myself because of that and taking lots of selfies with her.

What does Sex Education series four hold for you?
I can’t tell you much, unfortunately. But Ola’s an awesome character – fierce and confident. She’s had such a great journey already with Lily [her girlfriend, played by Tanya Reynolds], so wait and see.

Is it a responsibility to play a pansexual character?
It’s an honour, because there aren’t many on our screens. It makes people feel represented and I’m elevated by being part of that.

How did the rest of the cast react when Ncuti Gatwa (who plays Eric Effiong in the series) was announced as the next Doctor?
We’re all thrilled. I grew up watching David Tennant and Doctor Who holds a special place in my heart, so it blows my mind. It’s the right time for a change and to showcase the young talent we have in Britain. It’s going to be amazing for the little people of colour seeing someone who looks like them in such an iconic role. This is where we’re at now.

What’s in the pipeline for you?
I’ve just shot this cool indie film called Paradise. I play a cowgirl gunslinger. I also just finished my own short film, which is an environmental horror. I’d love to do a feminist horror next.

What’s on your cultural to-do list this summer?
Theatre-wise, Jerusalem and Mike Bartlett’s new play, The 47th. There’s a horror movie called X that looks fun. And I love the one-day festivals that come to London, like Mighty Hoopla and Field Day. I’m shyly getting myself back out there… MH

  • A Doll’s House Part 2 is at the Donmar Warehouse, London, 10 June-6 August

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