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Interview: Actor Teresa Banham on playing Hildegard von Bingen

Ahead of The Telling's performance of Vision in Walthamstow on Wednesday (2 October), actor Teresa Banham provided an insight into what it's like playing the extraordinary medieval Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen.

How do you find working with The Telling and how does it compare to what you’ve done before?

On the few occasions I have worked with musicians and singers, I’ve always found it energising. But when performing with The Telling, I feel really connected to them as performers. The acting and the music are not one thing supporting another, they feel organically connected. As if we are one, breathing the story into life!

What do you enjoy most about playing Hildegard von Bingen?

As a character she is complex. Some research revealed a description of her as ”enthralling and haughty, intrepid and irksome”. I particularly like ‘irksome’ as this is the quality that makes her most human. But also, a quality that I imagine might have enabled her to achieve so much against the odds. Not taking no for an answer. Brilliant, brave and difficult… she is not a sentimental heroine. And there are so many layers to explore.

Hildegard was an extraordinary woman, especially for her time, and has a wide following across the world. How does it feel bringing this important historical figure back to life?

Initially, quite daunting. But delving into her life is endlessly fascinating. Discovering the immense strength she must have had not just to survive but to thrive spiritually and creatively in her very difficult circumstances. I also feel that with the ‘me too’ and 50:50 movements making significant waves in the world of gender politics, it is really important to reflect on the stories of the women who have made this possible.

You have played a wide range of theatre and on-screen roles in the past, how does Hildegard compare to your previous roles?

Hildegard achieved so much more than any other character I have played. This makes her really interesting on an academic level as well as an emotional one. I’ve been fortunate to have played some fascinating characters in the past. But I don’t think I have ever spanned the entire life of a character from childhood to the very end. There is something satisfying in experiencing the arc of her life. It makes it all the more extraordinary.

How do you find performing to a live soundtrack?

I love it. Performing with music is invigorating and stimulating to the imagination. And this piece has been sensitively crafted so that the character and her music really live.

Why should people come and see Vision?

The show celebrates an amazing life in a unique way. And the atmosphere of a candlelit church and Hildegard’s stirring music makes for a really enriching evening.

Teresa and The Telling will perform Vision on Wednesday 2nd October, 7.30pm at St Michael and All Angels, Walthamstow for Peter McCarthy's Music in the Village.


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