Brian Beacom

GLENDA Jackson claimed acting wasn’t about dressing up. It was about stripping bare.

That’s almost always certainly the case. But it can also be about brain cell wrecking sheer hard work. That notion is underlined by Nicola Roy when she talks about her most recent play, Enlightenment House, a phenomenal production performed in the Georgian House in Edinburgh.

“I played all four female roles,” says Roy, with a pleased smile, of the parts, ranging from the cook to the lady of the house. “And we did four or five shows a day.”

So far so demanding. Lots of actors play multiple roles but few appear that many times in a day.

However, Roy had an even greater hurdle to leap with each show. The timings overlapped. “Half an hour in to the first show, we then started the second.” says Roy. “It was an amazing logistical challenge, going back and forwards.”

It must have been an incredible challenge in remembering which play your were in - and which character you were playing at any given time? Did this time travel adventure in theatre produce brain hurt? “It did,” she says, smiling. “But the team behind it were masters. They made it all work.”

Thankfully, Roy’s work this week requires she play just one role, and only once a day. The added delight is it’s one of the classic roles of theatre.

The Edinburgh-born actress stars in Tartuffe, Moliere’s 17th century play adapted by Liz Lochhead.

Tartuffe we learn is a con man who has inveigled his way into the lives of nice Orgon and his family, ingratiating himself to such a degree that they are initially blind to his true intent.

Orgon is so caught up in the bromance he doesn’t have any idea at all that his rascal chum schemes to marry his daughter while at the same time seducing his wife.

Roy, currently the face of The Lyceum Youth Theatre’s drive to funding less advantaged young people, plays Elmire, Orgon’s second wife and step mother to Mariane, whom she is very protective of. “Elmire comes from a less wealthy background than Orgon but she hasn’t married him for money. She is however very much the lady of the house and is flabbergasted her husband has been taken in.”

The role of Elmire is one most actresses dream of playing. “At points she is understated, yet she has a lot of dignity. She has to deal with this buffoon of a husband and so she keeps chipping away at him to get a result. She has to be clever.”

Moliere, says Roy, writes for all social classes. “When you look at the character Doreen the maid, for example, she is cleverer than all of them. The working class characters have this wisdom about them, and the aristocracy are shown to be fairly dim.”

It’s perhaps not surprising Moliere’s play was banned in 1664, not just because it mocked men of religion but it also challenged the larger society.

Tartuffe, the card-carrying hypocrite, represents the higher order who somehow twists reality to suit their own ends.

Roy, who has displayed a real talent for comedy in plays such as Oran Mor’s Change In Management, believes the play (performed in rhyming couplets) to be timeless. “The themes of hypocrisy, betrayal, being conned are universal. And sometimes it takes a partner to be able to look in on their actions and be able to see the reality of what is going on.”

She adds; “You can understand it. In a relationship ego kicks in. You don’t want to be told where you’re going wrong by someone close to you. It’s that thing about familiarity.”

Would Roy, who attended drama college in London, take an Elmire slow-burn approach to reproaching a partner? “I don’t think I’d have her patience,” she says, laughing. “I don’t think I’d be so controlled. I’m a bit more fiery when it comes to it. And if I were married to a man like this I’d soon be off.”

Nicola Roy is perfectly cast alongside Andy Clark, Gabriel Quigley and Grant O’Rourke. She understands comedy implicitly, as evidenced in her last Oran Mor outing A Change of Management, in which she played a single-minded office worker and mother determined to transform a suspected paedophile into a eunuch.

“That was a great part to play,” she says. “I really had to learn to think like this woman.”

Roy, who is also writing comedy sketches at the moment, loves the idea of studying new characters, throwing aside her own reactions to a situation, and then delving into the character’s head.

“That’s the duty you have, to try and understand the position, and the situation your character finds herself in,” she says.

So acting isn’t just about dressing up? “Not at all,” she says, grinning. “Although I do love to get the chance to wear a nice dress once in a while.”

Tartuffe, Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Saturday.