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An interview with Philippa Urquhart, the Rye-based actress who has revived the long-lost genre of Victorian ghost stories. By Karena Callen.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that actress Philippa Urquhart is one of Rye’s best kept secrets. Perched on a stool for our interview, she exudes an understated confidence that is undeniably charming. Urquhart ruffles her elfin-cut hair and grins cheekily. “I love Rye,” she enthuses. “I was looking for a place that my grown-up children would be happy to visit, and where I’d feel at home. I have the most incredible views, and wherever I look, I can see beautiful buildings and interesting passers-by – not a concrete block in sight!”
As an actress, she has played some enviable, not to mention challenging characters, on both stage and screen. Her television roles have included Miss Briggs in Vanity Fair, and Lillian Cartland in Tenko, which made her a household name. More recently, appearances in dramas such as The Bill and Eastenders, and a recent comic role in the stage play, “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” have proven her versatility.
It is Philippa’s ability to take on uncomfortable situations and troubled characters, however, that truly sets her apart. Her one woman production of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” that she has performed to audiences throughout the world, best illustrates her ability to evoke the uncanny and the menacing. “I was looking for a play that allowed me draw the audience in,” she explains. “It is one of my most challenging roles, since I have to single-handedly hold the attention of the audience for two hours.”
Her talent and love for adapting, as well as telling stories has led to her latest project. “I don’t read ghost stories for pleasure,” she reveals. “But I am fascinated by stories written by Victorian and Edwardian authors, such as Guy de Maupassant, Mary Braddon and E F Benson, which are totally engaging.” She believes that storytelling is one of the most unifying experiences for a performer and their audience. “Telling a story to a group of listeners definitely gives me as much of a tingle than when I’m performing on stage or screen.”
In addition to her readings, Urquhart has teamed up with local publishers, Balloonview, to record a series of her favourite tales in CD. “Ghosts, Visions and Apparitions: Ghostly Tales from the Victorian Era, £13.99 (Amazon link above), which includes The Phantom Coach and The Ghost Child, two of her favourite tales. “There’s a wealth of these stories, many of which have been forgotten, but they are definitely worth reviving.” Philippa Urquhart is available for private or public storytelling events, (prices on enquiry).