“Waking The Dead was a great thing to be part of,” says the actress. “I still get lots of comments about it. I’d never imagined myself in a long-running series. I get bored quite easily. But I loved being in that show - we muscled through scripts and felt like a real team.
“It was challenging and mentally very stimulating. I was learning about something I didn’t know much about – forensic work. I enjoy being challenged, having to work hard to understand something. Things don’t always come that easily in terms of how I process things, but that makes me feel alive and engaged. And working on The Winter’s Tale is the same.”
Often referred to as Shakespeare’s problem play - because the lead characters Hermione (Fitzgerald) and Leontes (New Tricks’ Jo Stone-Fewings), more or less disappear at the end of Act 1 until the final scenes - The Winter’s Tale marks Fitzgerald’s RSC debut.
Set in a notional Sicilia and Bohemia of 1860, the piece centres around King Leontes, a man who has everything he could want, power, wealth, a loving family and friends. But he is not at peace. Inside he harbours a bitter jealousy that drives him to loose his queen and destroy all he holds dear.
“Somebody clever said that playing Shakespeare is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You have to be totally on your game when you’re performing it, otherwise the language suffers.
“Sometimes during performance you can let your mind slip unintentionally, but if you do it with this it’s evident,” observes Fitzgerald, admitting The Winter’s Tale is now one of her favourite Shakespearean works plays. “I find it a very moving play. There seems to be a bittersweet quality to it. I also believe our production strongly brings out the humorous side of the play.
“I’m not in the comic parts myself, but listening to it backstage, I think audiences love it. It’s very gratifying.
“The first half of the play is quite painful, but the audience is rewarded, if you like, with the release of this wild comedy in the free world in Bohemia in the second half.”
And while she may best be known for her TV work, Fitzgerald has come to the realisation that theatre has become a very appealing medium of late.
“I used to find that if I was doing a play I wanted to do a film or TV, and vice versa. Now I really enjoy theatre,” she reveals.
“I love the immediacy of the audience, and there’s the opportunity to improve what you’re doing, to keep going at it and refining it. That said, some things go that are good, they just disappear. You will find a moment that really works, but after two weeks it evaporates, and then something else comes along.
“I like to do work with good writing, so we’re doing okay with Shakespeare. That was the thing about Waking The Dead. The format worked – it was strong and pacy, and it trusted the audience with some intelligence.
“I think audiences are very savvy; they’re not duped easily. Personally I don’t think one should play to the lowest common denominator, whatever that means. It seems to me that if you ask an audience to sit up and engage, they will. And with The Winter’s Tale, it’s great when you hear people saying, ‘I didn’t think I understood Shakespeare, but I saw the show and then I did’.”
The Winter’s Tale, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm) £11-£33.50