17th January 2023
Interview: Christopher Richmond
Meghan with her cast mate, Oli Higginson for Smoke.
Meaghan Martin has had an incredibly interesting and varied career. After being catapulted into the limelight with a scene-stealing role as Tess Tyler in Disney's Camp Rock, she's spent the last few years taking the London theatre scene by storm. She can currently be seen in Smoke at the Southwark Playhouse, a gripping modern adaptation of August Strindberg's ground-breaking play Miss Julie, She's here to tell us about her role in the new play, and the highlights of her career so far.
You’re soon to be seen in Smoke at the Southwark Playhouse. Who do you play and what appealed to you about the role?
There were so many things that intrigued me about the character of Julie. She’s at such a specific moment of life at such a specific moment of time -- being a 20 year old in 2012/2013 (which also happens to be the exact age I was in those years), and I think there is something about looking at this story and the character from a modern perspective that feels like a reclamation of the past for me. Not that I have much in common with Julie, literally, but I can relate to the feelings of confusion that come at that in-between moment of no longer a teenager, but not quite an adult.
The play is a modern reinterpretation of Miss Julie by by August Strindberg. In what way has the play been updated and what elements from the original story have been retained?
It’s difficult the describe the differences between Miss Julie and Smoke, but reinterpretation is a great way to describe it. Kim Davies took the events, power dynamics and character’s intentions from the original piece and re-jigged everything to make sense in the early 2010s. She did a brilliant job, and as we’re rehearsing the play, I’m seeing the connection between the two pieces more and more clearly. There are a few lines that are basically paraphrases of the original, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that when watching Smoke.
The play deals with themes of sexual freedom and consent, and was originally written in 2014 before the Me Too movement. In what way has the current climate and the changes that have happened since 2014 informed the latest production of the story?
I think the biggest change will be the audience and their reaction to the play. I think in the early 2010s the conversations surrounding consent were not nearly as nuanced as they are nowadays. The brilliant BBC series I May Destroy You comes to mind, and I think a series like that demonstrates that we are now ready to have a conversation about the parts of sexual encounters that were previously thought to be ‘grey areas’. In many ways, I think Smoke was ahead of its time in 2014 and the modern world is better equipped to watch and understand what happens between the two characters throughout the play.
The story takes place entirely in a kitchen and with a cast of just one another person. What are the challenges of such an intimate set and such a small cast? What was the rehearsal period like?
We have actually taken the story out of a literal kitchen set and have placed it in a more ‘psychological space’, it’s really exciting and helps with some of the limitations an actor might feel in a very naturalistic set. I think it’s thrilling though to do a piece with only one other person, in only one setting. It can feel vulnerable and exposing, but also it enables the storytelling and characters to be at the centre of the piece. We are in the midst of rehearsals right now and it’s a lot of fun, very different from anything I’ve ever worked on. It’s very collaborative and experimental, almost like a devised play in many ways and I find that challenging, but in the best way!
You’ve starred in films, television and theatre. What do you like about each of these different mediums and what do you find challenging? How are they different to one another?
I think film and television are so different from theatre, so different that they don’t feel like they can possibly be the same job. They both require such specific technical skill sets and approaches to character building. Theatre is long form, whereas film and television is often very quick and over in a few weeks. I personally prefer theatre because I love having a rehearsal process and a long run to explore the character over and over again with a collaborative team. However, there is also something magical about how quickly film and television happens, it’s over with so fast you have to really trust your instincts.
You’ve performed in a number of productions in London over the last few years. What do you like about London? How is it different from the US? What is it that appeals to you about performing in this city?
I love London, I think there is a lot of artistic comradery here. The entertainment industry will always be competitive in any city, but London feels a bit friendlier than LA ever did for me. It can be hard as an American both personally and professional as I think I’m often up against some stereotypes, but I think/hope that’s changing as the world becomes more and more international. It’s a buzzy city with a really beautiful theatre community from tiny pub theatres all the way up to massive west end venues. You never know where you’ll find the next theatre piece that speaks to you!
We couldn’t interview you and not mention your iconic role in Camp Rock - what do you remember about the experience? What did it teach you about the acting profession? Would you ever do Camp Rock 3?
It’s funny for a long time I said I would never do a Camp Rock 3, I think I went through a phase of being ashamed of Camp Rock because I didn’t see it as ‘serious’ acting or whatever, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised not everything needs to be serious, and actually it would be pretty awful if everything was serious! Camp Rock meant so much to so many people and it’s crazy to think about that, the impact it continues to have is truly humbling. I didn’t always have the best time making the movies, I think there are a lot of complications to growing up on screen, but I am thankful for where they have brought me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Tess Tyler.
What sort of roles would you like to take on in the future? What would be your dream role?
It sounds nerdy, but I honestly just love acting so it’s hard to say specifically the types of roles I would want to play -- there are so many. For film, I’d love to do a romantic comedy, I’d also love to do some classical theatre. I have a huge passion for Shakespeare and Jacobean/Elizabethan theatre so that would be a real treat that I haven’t had the chance to dive into since drama school. I also love classic American theatre; Tennesse Williams, Arthur Miller, their plays are a bit overdone, but they’re just SO brilliantly written, there is a reason everyone always wants to put them on!
Check out Meghan Martin in Smoke at the Southwark Playhouse starting on the 1st February.