Making Mischief – An Interview with a ‘Mankind’ cast member

As we continue to get ready for our upcoming Mankind revival, we sat down to have a chat with one of our actors. Kate Thomas is playing Mischief, one of the demonic, vice characters of the play. She’s worked with HIDden in the past, as well. Kate is also a proper medievalist who studies Anglo-Saxon literature and liturgy, so she has a unique perspective on acting in medieval dramas. (She’s also our go-to person for tricky Latin advice!)

How did you get interested in medieval drama?

I studied English Literature as an undergrad at Durham, and during my second year I got into medieval literature and started going down that path. John McKinnell did ‘Hickscorner’ in my third year, just as I was starting to really focus on medieval lit, and I got interested. So when I came to York to my MA in medieval literature in 2005, I joined the Lords of Misrule, the grad school’s medieval drama group. I was hoping they’d be part of the 2006 Mystery Plays – that was part of why I joined – but they didn’t do it that year. I had to wait until 2010, when I was one of the Lords waggon crew cast.

What sort of roles have you done?

Let’s see… Going way back, I was Sylvius in As You Like It, and I was Starveling the Tailor in Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was a villager in Penumbra Mortis – that was probably my favourite play with Lords, although it wasn’t my favourite role. I was the evil witch, Kalla, in Eyrbyggja Saga. And of course I was an angel in 2014 for The Baptism. Actually, I do really like Mischief, I think it’s been most interesting.

What do you find most challenging and interesting about playing Mischief?

He’s kind of evil, really! It’s a welcome change. It’s fun trying to figure out how to play him, because it’s not always clear. I’m doing it as a sort of seductive, sophisticated, feminine figure – a femme fatale almost. Being a death figure helps it make sense, it really works in some of the more sinister moments, but it doesn’t always go so easily with bits where I get frightened or intimidated or I’m mucking around, but it adds some layers to the scarier bits. I can intimidate the Vices with how I kill people – they’re not on that level.

It’s a chance to be evil in a more complicated way. This is a very enigmatic character, it’s not just “I’ll go around killing people”. In some ways because it’s not realistic drama, that makes it more difficult to interpret. I mean, it’s not Iago, who’s enigmatic, but clearly wants to hurt people, but he’s still a person, he has motivations, whereas with Mischief there’s the question of whether or not this even is a human being. It’s almost cartoonish – not in a silly way, but it’s a type, it’s not subtle. But it’s not simplistic or unmotivated, it’s just that the motive is a bit beyond human, whereas the Vices aren’t evil in the same way.

Do you have a favourite scene?

The one after their initial attempts to lure Mankind have gone wrong, when I’m going off and being frightening, and when we’re putting our heads together and plotting. I like the scheming.

You’ve done a fair bit of both medieval and Shakespearean characters. Do you see a difference between Shakespeare & medieval, from an acting standpoint?

I think the real question is what the continuity is! I find it hard to believe that the Shakespearean era wasn’t influenced by other sorts – but that’s when it started going into theatre, wasn’t it? When it went indoors. I think that’s the big change, moving in to places where people had to pay to watch, rather than public spaces. But as an actress it wouldn’t occur to me to treat them differently!

What do you see as the place of medieval drama in modern theatre repertoire?

Hopefully people like it! I like to see it included as much as possible, I don’t like the idea that it could be “out of date” or impossible for people to appreciate today, I don’t do moving on like that. People’s experience should be as wide as possible, not just with drama but with everything.

You’ve worked with HIDden before, what keeps you coming back?

You never know what the next role is going to be like, there’s always something interesting and different about it.