Claire Price tells Terry Grimley why she likes to mix TV detectives with classical theatre.
If it weren't for the fact that Equity ensures there are never two members with the same name, you might be forgiven for thinking there are two actresses called Claire Price.
There's the one who is probably best known for playing Ken Stott's detective sidekick in the TV adaptations of Ian Rankin's Rebus stories, and has also appeared in other TV crime series like Midsomer Murders, Poirot and Dalziel & Pascoe.
And then there's the classical actress who played opposite Ralph Fiennes in Ibsen's Brand for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and whose other notable stage credits include Volpone and Don Carlos, also for the RSC, The Relapse and Cyrano at the National Theatre and a lot of Shakespeare at the Manchester Royal Exchange, Sheffield Crucible and elsewhere.
But, of course, it's the same Claire Price. When I met her during rehearsals for Ibsen's The Lady From the Sea at Birmingham Rep, I asked if the sharp division between her stage and TV work was a sign of the times.
"It was very much a decision for me four or five years ago that I wanted to do classical theatre," she said.
"I'm a bit frustrated by our contemporary writers on the whole. What I like is the depth of feeling in classic plays and I don't think we have that in contemporary theatre. At the moment our theatre sounds like television. I think that's a mistake, because theatre needs to make itself different. There's no reason for people to get off the sofa and come and see an episode of EastEnders on stage.
"And then, of course, this happens to women in all forms, because men stop writing for women in their 30s. They write about young vulnerable maidens-in-distress and then the parts stop until they become wizened old witches. There's very little in-between."
She admits to having a role model in Helen Mirren, who has managed to carve out a high-profile television profile in Prime Suspect while retaining credibility in classical theatre.
Lynda La Plante's invention of Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect is an exception which proves the rule about middle-aged roles for women. What's needed is more women writers to fill the gap, Claire Price believes.
All of which is not so far removed from the theme of The Lady From the Sea, in which she plays Ellida, a woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to an older man.
"This woman is struggling, because she is unhappy and doesn't know why. The reason she doesn't know why is that feminism hasn't been invented, that women have under-developed willpower. They don't know what they want."
The Lady From the Sea is regarded as one of Ibsen's more problematic plays, and it's less familiar in the theatre than his proto-feminist play A Doll's House.
"There have been a few productions... there was one at the Royal Exchange in Manchester with Vanessa Redgrave, and one about 10 years ago at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Then when we were doing Brand in the West End there was a production at the Almeida at the same time.
"It's a difficult play, because it's as though Ibsen has taken a dream and written a play about it. It's not real and it is real. He was moving away from realism towards metaphor and symbolism and dream imagery. He prefigures Freud, and Ellida's husband, who tries the talking cure, is almost like an early analyst."
It's sobering now to read the astonishingly hostile reviews of the first British performance in 1891. The Standard's reviewer, who called it "five acts of unmitigated rubbish", seemed to assume that all Ibsen's heroines were mad.
His equally anonymous colleague on The Times concluded: "Clearly Ibsen's best chance of being accepted as a dramatist, rather than a pathological lecturer, is that he should be administered to the public in small doses and at lengthy intervals."
Oddly enough, more recent criticism of The Lady From the Sea has tended to focus on the perception that it is too optimistic. But then, the popular image of Ibsen as being swathed in Nordic gloom is not one that Claire Price recognises.
"I'm odd, because when people say Ibsen's depressing I think he's full of joy," she says.
* The Lady From the Sea is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until March 29 (Box office: 0121 236 4455).