Interview: Actor Suzanne Ahmet on playing Blanca the Jewish woman

Ahead of The Telling's performance of Into the Melting Pot at Liverpool Early Music Festival on 22nd September, actor Suzanne Ahmet provided an insight into what it's like playing Blanca, a Jewish woman in 1492 Seville as the deadline for the expulsion of the Jews looms.

How do you find working with The Telling and how does it compare to what you’ve done before? The level of detail that goes into creating a piece with The Telling is perhaps the most challenging and exciting element of the work. There are 6 of us (5 musicians and 1 actor), weaving the story on stage, along with Nick Renton who conducts the piece, via his role as director, from off stage. When Nick, Clare and I began our journey back in January, I found rehearsals to be a constant source of discovery, finding new meanings in the text each time we met. And when the musicians arrived – everything was taken to a whole new level!

Into the Melting Pot touches on some hard-hitting truths about racial intolerance in the late 1400s which are sadly still relevant today. How does it feel to be sharing such an important message? It is a privilege to be recounting a story that is so closely linked to a complex and deeply troubling part of history. I feel a sense of responsibility from everyone that we tread carefully. We are trying to depict real events through the eyes of a fictional character. The way in which Clare Norburn (writer/soprano) interweaves Blanca’s story and imagination with historic fact, hopefully, brings the world of Medieval Spain to life in a tangible and accessible way.

Nick (director) favours an honest and delicate approach, depicting our heroine, Blanca, with a light touch and sense of innocence. She is an ordinary, uneducated, working-class widow. Her intellect is instinctual, natural: she listens to those around her, hears their speech and turns of phrase, music and storytelling and absorbs it like her own personal playlist. The different languages and cultures alive in her neighbourhood and throughout Spanish history light her up. She is part of a glorious diversity, which moves her to dance, laugh, sing, debate and question.

However, this enjoyment and outlet happen in private. She is aware of her place as a Jewish widow in a Catholic country whose leaders feel increasingly threatened by 'difference'. And so, each night, alone in her workroom, she tunes into voices of women from the past, who share their stories, as she sits at her spinning wheel – her own special kind of 'telepathy'. 

How painful it is then when in her lifetime, she must watch her beloved Seville be stripped, divided and violated due to the destructive forces of The Inquisition. It is startling to acknowledge that we are still living with different shades of the same situation, today. We could be talking about Nations all over the world that suffer and struggle in similar ways, 600 years on.

Into the Melting Pot has a fun side too, of course! What do you enjoy most about playing Blanca, the Jew