Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man tells the story of Raina, a beautiful young women who is in love with Sergius, a dashing and heroic young officer. But when Captain Bluntschli, a battle hardened professional soldier on the losing side appears in Raina’s bedroom she finds that there is a great deal more to love and war than she first thought.

Starring in this exciting new adaption is Kathryn O’Reilly, who recently starred in A View from Islington North at the Arts Theatre to critically acclaim. She also recently brought her new play Screwed to Theatre503, which was incredibly well received. Recently, Kathryn appeared in Call The Midwife (BBC) in a guest lead role and toured nationally and internationally playing Liz Morden in Out of Joint's Our Country's Good, directed by Max Stafford-Clark. caught up with Kathryn O'Reilly to find out more...

Kathryn O'Reilly how are you doing today?
Great thanks. Looking forward to this week ahead. Feels like it's all going by quite quickly. Last week was our first week of two, two show days and we had press night!

You are starring in Arms and the Man at Watford Palace Theatre, what has been the greatest challenge for you so far?
I think being big and bold with the character of Catherine. There’s no real subtext to the play, a couple of times in rehearsal the director Brigid Lamour had to tell me to stop internalising. There’s not masses of detective work to be done and you have to be always on the front foot and out there.

When you were cast did you already have a strong idea of how to play this role?
Not a strong idea no. However, I did research who had played the role previously, to get an idea of flavours. I knew from the audition with the director Brigid Lamour and from Shaw’s stage directions and character description that the role of Catherine Petkoff has a real extrovert side to her personality, she's very direct, and can get carried away, so I knew that she required a certain energy and attack in performing the role. It’s not a play that you can be really naturalistic with in acting style. It’s heightened, and I’ve found there’s a real balance to be struck, with being big and as truthful as possible, as with a play like this, you can’t play it as though you know you are in a comedy. From an acting perspective, this play is also more about performance. There’s a strong sense that the characters in the play perform to each other, each character has clearly defined character traits and roles in relation to each other that Shaw wished to present in no uncertain terms and encourage the audience to think about those characters in relation to the themes he explores in the play.

What has the rehearsal process been like?
It’s been really interesting, we were up on our feet on day two and the room had been marked up and the brilliant stage management department who had also sourced props and set and bits of rehearsal costume really quickly, so it was great to have all that to work with really early on. I love working physically and Brigid Lamour did a fantastic Lecoq exercise with us with sticks, that we had to work with whilst doing the text, I found it a very freeing exercise. We also worked with the brilliant movement director Jack Murphy, and voice coach Charmiane Hoare. We had a lot of fun, we've all gotten quite giddy at different times.

As a company we also visited Shaw's corner, Shaw's home that he has left to the National Trust. We were so fortunate to have a tour of his home, which of course was fascinating and were allowed to perform Act 2 of the play in his garden as though it was the Petkoff's garden.

Did you know the play before taking on the role?
No, and I think it’s always a joy to approach a role that you have no real preconceived ideas about, points of personal reference or attachments to, as that way you can organically start afresh in your approach and exploration. I had one book of Shaw’s play’s on my bookshelf ‘Plays Unpleasant’, however Arms and the Man is not part of this collection, but ‘Plays Pleasant’. Ending his authors note on the back of the book reads ‘Not to have read Shaw is to be behind the times as far as he has always been before them’. He wrote to challenge audiences and conventional theatre as well as peoples’ ideas. He was so prolific and incredibly successful in his day, thought of as one of greatest playwrights of his time, so it’s been really interesting finding out about him as a person, his journey as a playwright, his intentions with his work, also how is work has been directly influenced by his philosophies.

You recently starred in A View from Islington North at the Arts Theatre, how did you find that?
Amazing. Out of Joint is such a fantastic company to work for and working with director Max Stafford-Clark is always a brilliant and rewarding experience. A huge part of working with Max is a process called actioning which facilitates actors to be very specific with each line and thought and use it as scaffolding with which to build and explore the characters. It was such a pleasure to work with a great company of actors and stage management. I learnt a lot and loved the challenge of working on different pieces by fantastic writers, Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill, Stella Feehily, Alistair Beaton and David Hare. Loved it. I also loved being in town, there’s a great buzz to London.

You also recently brought your new play Screwed to the lovely Theatre503 amid great acclaim, is staging your own play a completely process?
Yes, definitely. You join the process at a much earlier stage, in my case I started the process, as a writer/producer you are creating and building the team from the start. For the majority of actors by the time they join a production the creative team is usually in place, and months of pre-production well under way. It was an interesting process that I learnt a great deal from at every stage of the process. There is also a lot that is the same, in the sense that you still want the same result. To make a positive contribution. To be part of a brilliant creative project, for audiences to enjoy the work and to provoke thought and discussion in them, doing the best that you can and being part of a team.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Currently I am working on my next play, and endeavour to get that into production.

Why should people come to see Arms and the Man?
If you fancy some light hearted comedy, come on down. Never seen Shaw before? Come on down. It's a delightful play beautifully directed by Brigid Lamour. Great lighting design by Jenny Cane, design by Rebecca Brower, sound design by Aaron Ghosh and movement direction by Jack Murphy. A play written and first performed in 1894 that will still be entertaining and exciting to audiences today in 2016. If you haven't been to Watford Palace Theatre before and love real old beautiful theatres, this is place to come, it is a perfect space for this play. We'd love to see you.

Anything else to say to Theatre News watchers?
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. It's very heartening to have support from audiences. There's so much exciting work happening in the industry, keep watching, keep going.