Kate earns her big chance to shine on stage

Kate Spencer plays Estelle in Great Expectations at Derby Theatre.
Kate Spencer plays Estelle in Great Expectations at Derby Theatre.

Kate Spencer has turned her hand to everything, from serving coffee in the cafe to selling tickets at the box office...

Her real job is an actor so it was only natural that she would eventually star in a Derby Theatre main house show.

The 25-year-old from Ashover will play Victorian heartbreaker Estella in Great Expectations which runs at the theatre from September 29 to October 21.

When it came to casting Great Expectations, Kate really was in the right place at the right time.

She said: “As I work at Derby Theatre, I go to all the meetings about programming and things like that and as soon as I heard that Great Expectations was going to be one of the autumn shows I knew I desperately wanted to be part of it.”

Kate even got an early look at the project as part of the actors’ ensemble at the theatre. She said: “That’s all about like-minded practitioners coming together to work on ideas and scripts and we did a little bit on the Great Expectations script at the very beginning. From that moment, I wanted to audition for it so I contacted my agent and also approached Sarah Brigham (Derby Theatre’s artistic director) and asked if I was at all appropriate for any of the roles.”

“Within this industry, it’s a lot about who you know and also about being brave. So I got the role through getting to know all about Derby Theatre but also through the normal way of agents and auditions.”

Estella is the adopted daughter of wealthy Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ masterwork.

For Kate, exploring Estella’s character and motivations will be the biggest challenge and most intriguing aspect of the production.

She said: “Estella is such an interesting character as she is so conflicted. The book expands over 20 odd years, by which time she has grown as a person and her relationship has developed with Miss Havisham and Pip and she has changed as an individual.

“It’s going to be so interesting to play with her journey and find the balance in her conflicts. When I was asked in the past ‘What is your dream role?’ I could never answer as I never really had one but having read this script, Estella is incredible, she is such a strong woman.

“She’s been brought up by Miss Havisham with certain ideas and thoughts in order to break men’s hearts but, as the story develops, Estella has conflicted views about what she should be doing and what she wants to be doing. I think she is manipulative but also unsure of what is right and whether she is doing things for herself, for Pip’s own good, or for Miss Havisham – who is there all the time over her shoulder and she doesn’t want to go against the woman who has brought her up with every luxury.

“During the rehearsal process it will be about finding that balance in her relationships with Miss Havisham and Pip.”

What Kate also loves about Estella is that she is far removed from our expectations of a young Victorian woman.

She said: “Both Miss Havisham and Estella are headstrong women. Estella is so independent even under Miss Havisham’s control and she does not bow down to the men in her life – within the Victorian era she’s not typical and she has a lot of courage. She’s definitely a modern woman, which is very exciting.”

Kate first came across Dickens at school and like many teenagers struggled at first.

“I was introduced to the book at around 14 in English lessons and I did find it a bit difficult to read as it’s a different form of language but it’s so descriptive, the settings and characters are so vivid. They always are with Dickens but especially with Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. Pip, Estella, Miss Havisham and Magwitch are such iconic characters - even if you don’t know Great Expectations you can still picture them.”

Great Expectations has been adapted by Neil Bartlett and uses Dickens’ original language, which Kate believes is important in recreating the essential essence of the story.

“I think when you are younger it’s hard to picture it all as the language can be quite complicated but when it’s on stage you can visualise more easily and using the original language becomes a key part of our adaptation. It gives it a magical quality.”

Kate has seen several of the TV and film versions of the tale which have helped introduce it to successive generations.

“I have seen the more recent BBC version a couple of time, which is so great, and I wouldn’t stay away from watching different versions, because every single one brings something different to it.

“What’s important for us is the ensemble and what everyone adds to the mix. You have an idea in your head of your own character but the relationships are hard to determine before rehearsals as you don’t know how the other actors are going to interpret their characters. It’s when everyone gets together in rehearsals that the magic begins.”

There will be nerves on first night for Kate, naturally, and the added pressure of seeing a sea of familiar faces in the audience.

She said: “My mum has so many people coming up I have to keep writing it in my diary or I would get confused. I have a big, big family. It will be a lot of pressure knowing they are out there but also very exciting.”

To book tickets for Great Expectations, visit www.derbytheatre.co.uk