Interview: Ottilie Mackintosh (The Level of Being)

This weekend Martin Arrowsmith's one woman play The Level of Being makes its London debut at the Hen and Chickens. The dark comedy follows Louise, a modern woman whose relationship, friendships and career are falling apart. Struggling, she turns to Dr Doreen McDonald's inspiring self-help bible The Level of Being for help. 

The Level of Being stars Ottilie Mackintosh, who took a little bit of time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the show... 

Can you tell us a bit about your career up until this point, and what it was that attracted you to this show and role?
My biggest role so far was playing Joanna Lumley in Little Crackers on Sky One. It was a show about her early life as a model in the 60s, which she directed and performed in herself. It was amazing to be performing alongside so many incredible actors, and Joanna is a really lovely person. We're still in touch a bit. She even emailed me to wish me luck for The Level of Being. She said she'd try to come see it if she could make it so here's hoping! I've also appeared in a new feature film, Petroleum Spirit, which is in post production. The character I play in the film is a little closer to me I hope- I find I often get cast as slightly more psychotic characters! 

With The Level of Being I auditioned and performed it in Nottingham with the writer Martin Arrowsmith directing. It was meant to transfer to London with the same team, but for various reasons that didn't happen, so I decided to take it on myself!

Your character Louise seems to be going through a lot at the beginning of the play, and her life sounds oddly reminiscent of the lives of many people today. To what extent do you relate to her and her situations?
I think everyone has those moments in life when things just seem to escalate, mount up and turn against you. I've never been divorced, so I can't personally relate to that, but we all know what it's like to be at your lowest ebb. We've all had a 'soul destroying' job, or been in debt. When that happens it's very easy to focus on all the negatives and convince yourself everything's against you. You can trick yourself into thinking you need to change your life completely, which is what Louise does.

Do you think this story will resonate with audiences? How do you think audiences will react to such a familiar yet dark story?
One of the things a lot people have said is that they know somebody "just like Louise". It seems everybody has a Louise in their life. And I think it must be cathartic in a way to see somebody they recognise do all the things that infuriate them on a stage.
Louise says she's depressed, but it's up to the audience to decide for themselves whether that's true or not. Is she really suffering from depression or is she just saying that to draw sympathy? It will be interesting to see how the audience reacts to that. 

The show features three actors, two of whom are silent mime performers. What is it like to play the only speaking role and how does this affect how the show is rehearsed? 
I think at first yes, the two other people, called "X" and "Y", don't appear to be very helpful and it puts the audience on Louise's side. But gradually as she starts creating problems for yourself you begin to feel more sorry for X & Y, who are sort of helpless spectators in her car crash life - a bit like the audience.

I think it would have been possible to do it as a completely one woman show, but (writer) Martin Arrowsmith was quite specific about having two silent actors on stage, and I think he was right. Eliott Keefe and Stephanie Houtman are playing X & Y. It's been great having them because although they don't say anything, I've had someone to react to and bounce off in rehearsals. Rehearsals have been interesting in themselves. We've been using a storage unit behind where I work in London. It's freezing cold and there's no natural light! 

If you could give your own piece of self-help advice, what would it be?
That it's okay to be flawed and not have it all together, and in a society that's obsessed with presenting ourselves at our absolute finest and hiding the hard parts of our lives, it can be easy to suppress those things - but Louise is a fine example of the rage, resentment, and insecurity that can build up as a consequence of that!

What’s next for the show after its run at the Hen and Chickens?
I think first of all I'll see what reaction we get at the Hen and Chickens before deciding what to do. There has been talk of a tour, or doing it again in London for a longer run. I've been with this character for half a year now, but I still think there's more of her to explore.