Blog: Rudi Dharmalingam

As he returns to Salford, where he trained, for a role in Mary Stuart, the actor reflects on how chance plays a part in both his real and dramatic lives

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Our production of Mary Stuart opens with a coin toss to decide which actor will play which part.  The two roles up for grabs are Mary Stuart (also known as Mary Queen of Scots,) and Elizabeth I. Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson share the parts of these two renowned women.

The range of alternatives that we are presented with in our daily lives is arguably infinite. Leaving the house two minutes later than usual may result being caught at some red lights. Which in turn can result in a missed train. That inconvenience can result in bumping into an old friend from school on the platform, which can result in a friendly coffee and then an intimate date and then finally marriage and kids. People’s lives can be affected so profoundly from something as insignificant and trivial as leaving the house two minutes later than usual.

Mary Stuart was the pin-up girl of Catholicism, a symbol of hope, romanticism and Christian puritanism

Mary Stuart was on her way back to France from Scotland when the wind pushed her towards England. She was then imprisoned by Elizabeth I for nearly 20 years.  The reasons for her imprisonment are complex, encompassing political and religious tensions between Protestant England and Catholic Europe. The legitimacy of Elizabeth’s reign was a well debated topic among Catholics in England and Europe. Mary Stuart was the pin-up girl of Catholicism, a symbol of hope, romanticism and Christian puritanism. She was also a catalyst for Catholic rebellion and violent plotting against Elizabeth and Protestantism in general.  As my character Mortimer says to Mary in Act I:

“As long as you’re alive, so is Elizabeth’s fear
Her only route to safety is your death.”

My point is that, arguably, every single event in history is decided on a spin of a coin, from world wars to leaving your house slighter later than usual and as a result bumping into an old friend on the station platform who strikes a chord in your heart. Who knows how many times we could have lost our lives by walking down the wrong street or not taking that late-night taxi home?

At school my best friends were Ben and Nick. We were a trio – always stuck to each other’s hips, writing, acting and generally clowning around. We fed off each other, we inspired each other; our interest in drama and performance was galvanised by each other’s energies and specialities. Nick was the writer, Ben knew how to deliver a line with aplomb and to remarkable comic effect and I had the art of an impression, a funny face and silly voice down pat. This friendship was without question firmly instrumental in igniting  my interest in acting. What if I didn’t know Ben and Nick? What if Ben had gone to another school? Maybe for the team to work we had to exist in a trio and a duo wouldn’t have been as influential?

I took GCSE drama because it gave me an alternative to academia – something I was never able to excel at. Drama gave me a sense of empowerment and confidence, having been quite introverted as a child. The wavering emphasis on creative arts subjects today is deeply concerning. I think it’s vital that children are given varied choices in school that create avenues of opportunity in subjects outside of academia.

Those three years in Salford were the most special three years of my life

I had a major epiphany at the age of 15 as a result of discovering drama in school. I had unearthed what I wanted to do with my life. I played table tennis at a county and national level from the ages of seven to 15. In hindsight I can see almost a perfect dovetailing of interests here in my mid teens. My passion for table tennis waned just at the moment my love for pretending to be other people intensified. Weird how these two very different disciplines were connected. However, I can see now that the rigid almost machine-like quality required of any sportsman can manifest itself in other areas of interest and opportunity.  The level of dedication I demonstrated while playing sport from such a young age has ultimately shaped my level of commitment that I so very much pride myself on in my work as an actor today.

After GCSE drama I did A-level theatre studies, then National Youth Theatre and finally Salford University, where I completed a BA (Hons) in performing arts. Those three years in Salford were the most special three years of my life. Salford University became the place that provided me with the next stepping stone of learning. I will always be hugely grateful for that.

In our version of Mary Stuart I play the role of Mortimer. He’s in his early twenties and believes it’s his divine right to free Mary from prison and perhaps kill Elizabeth I in the process. He discovers Catholicism having been brought up a Protestant. He’s driven, ambitious and naive. He operates at an unnervingly heightened level to fulfil what he believes his is destiny. His focus is frightening and his obsession with Mary Stuart is uncomfortable.

Mary Stuart plays in the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry, my place of graduation. It’s a special and of course nostalgic place for me and I can’t wait to get back there.

Mary Stuart is at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, until 31 March, and then tours the UK, including the Lowry, Salford, 17-24 April. You can read our interview with Juliet Stevenson in the 26 Feb edition of Big Issue North

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Rudi Dharmalingam

  • mick dillon
    28 Feb 2018 13:28
    I really enjoyed this production , particularly the ending which was dramatic to say the least. Having watched rudi pass through the chess and table-tennis years ,and then on to acting to the point now where I get absorbed in the production rather than thinking' Oh that's someone I know on stage ', it has been an interesting journey to watch . To see him on stage with such acclaimed actors as Juliet and Lia ( who I thought were excellent along with the rest of the cast ) and not be seemingly over-awed by the experience was amazing. If I have any criticism of the play itself ,and I am in no position to critique it at all apart from as an observer , but maybe there could have been an element that reflected Elizabeth's own earlier incarceration by her half-sister Mary the First for very similar reasons to those that led Elizabeth to incarcerate Mary Queen of Scots. Maybe it was in there-I just failed to notice it !?
  • Deoranee and David
    21 Feb 2018 16:36
    Once you have sat down and enjoyed the play and reflect on it, this has some powerful themes which create the kind of effect and meaning, characters are faced with challenging and sometimes dark choices. While there is a degree of resolution at the end of the play, and experience of all. Every character in the play is involved in some manner of intrigue. Rudi has achieved his ambition and challenging goal and will endeavour to continue to do so in all aspects of his career.

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