Fear of spiders was the first obstacle for Charlotte star
PLAYING the role of Charlotte in Charlotte's Web presented a number of challenges to actress Claire Redcliffe – not least that she is scared of spiders.
"I've never really been a fan," said Claire, "though I must say that in preparing for this production I've had to think about spiders in a different way and I have become increasingly aware of what amazing creatures they are – their webs are just incredible.
"Charlotte doesn't look frightening, though. In fact, my spider costume is really rather beautiful. It's dark grey and made of silky and velvety materials so it's rather appealing.
"But, I do have eight legs – two of my own, four shorter legs attached to my body and then my two arms, which are extended out with sticks."
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Although all the costumes capture the essence of the animal, none of the cast wears masks – a deliberate policy by the play's award-winning director, Roger Haines, who wanted the actors' expressions to be visible.
"Roger had a very clear concept of what he wanted from the cast, to merge the animals' characteristics with the recognisable human traits of their role," said Claire.
Her spider-like qualities are defined by her costume and also by the ways she stands and moves.
This posed yet another challenge for the actress in terms of strength and endurance as her legs need to be bent for much of the show.
"I will have some incredible leg muscles by the time the play finishes," said Claire, who studied ballet as a child.
"The role also requires me to keep scrambling over bales of straw, so my agility is improving day by day. I have never taken on a part which is quite so physical before."
No stranger to the stage or TV (Eastenders, Holby City) Claire has played many different roles in her time but never an animal.
She said: "This has required a completely new discipline and, while capturing the appearance of a spider, I also needed to connect with Charlotte's personality – the part of her which has the 'get up and go' to befriend Wilbur in his hour of need.
"It is Charlotte's maternal side which comes to the forefront in her relationship with Wilbur.
"She is a doer, a fixer, who comes up with a plan of action, so her character evolved with a Mary Poppins-style benevolent brusqueness, mustering everyone into action, giving them hope."
Of course, the heart-breaking thing about Charlotte is that she dies soon after giving birth to her offspring, which is very poignant, and puts a focus on the cycle of life.
Claire feels that Roger has a real talent for finding the right emotional tempo for a production – bringing out the heart of the show, without making it patronising.
"Children turn off instantly if they sense they are being patronised," she said.
"There are some lovely messages in Charlotte's Web about friendship, hope and how we can overcome difference to pull together. Roger has hit all the right notes and created a beautiful show."
WHAT: Chalotte's Web
WHERE: Derby Theatre
WHEN: Until January 2.
ADMISSIONS: £9-£22. Family tickets £36-£60.
TICKETS: Call Derby 593939 or visit www.derbytheatre.co.uk