A Tale of Two Cities: Noa Bodner on playing Madame Defarge

A Tale of Two Cities: Noa Bodner on playing Madame Defarge

22 November 2016

"Madame D is political, strong, outspoken and very determined, fighting till the bitter end" Noa shares insights into her character, her knitting skills and playing the harmonica in the preamble.

Noa Bodner on stage as vengeful Madame DefargeTell us about your character Madame Defarge. What are her motivations?
Madame Defarge is moved to action by both her personal story, very cruelly linked to the Manette and Evrémonde families, as well as the bigger movement of the time, the common people in search of change, equality and freedom.  


Madame Defarge has been described as one of Dickens’s meanest characters. Is that a fair analysis?
Not to be harsh on good ol' Charles D, he is a marvellous writer, but often fails when it comes to writing a good female character. His women are often submissive, swooning and rather weak. Madame Defarge is political, strong, outspoken and very determined — fighting till the bitter end. She has a strong sense of what is just and I believe that strong women are often seen as "mean". I DO think she is taking it a step too far and doesn't know when enough is enough, which also proves to be her downfall. I think she has good reasons to be the way she is and personally, as an actor, I never pass judgement on my characters.  


Madame Defarge is a keen knitter, secretly encoding the names of those to be killed by the revolution. Were you able to knit before taking the role and have you made anything on tour?!
I most definitely did not know how to knit before starting rehearsals and I am now finding myself undoing lines and lines of knitted wool as that list gets longer and longer!!! I am grateful Shanaya Rafaat — who is playing Lucie Manette — learned to knit in another Dickens play, so she taught me how.  I was told I could "fake it" but I don't like faking actions on stage, I feel there's power to the action and I believe it comes across to anyone watching. I do wish I could knit anything other than long lines of scarves. 


We absolutely love hearing you play harmonica in the preamble… it really sets the scene! Is it something you’ve played from a young age?
Thank you! I started playing at the age of six and played all through high school in a special children's orchestra. Then I thought it to be "uncool" and stopped for almost 20 years but realised my mistake and got back into playing. I encourage you all to have a quick listen to the story behind that orchestra and my teacher here in an interview I gave BBC Sheffield last year, while doing a show called Playing for Time at the Crucible Theatre.  



Also, I have a YouTube channel where you can hear more music from myself and my trusty companion.  
YouTube channel - londonoa 


How did you get into acting?
I just never got rid of acting. I have always been one to use my imagination and creativity to keep myself busy and entertained. I mostly sang and played instruments, but I have recordings of myself from the age of three pretending to read but actually just reciting my favourite books and making up songs and stories, just to keep hold of the recording mic my parents had. I always say it's a thing I can't not do rather than a thing I do. I am lucky to be working in one of the top places in the world for this profession. 


2016 has been a particularly unpredictable political world, what would Dickens make of it all?
Dickens would have probably been tweeting throughout! I think his world wasn't much more predictable or easy to be honest, I often think that back then it was the worst of time, it was the worst of times! I wouldn't last two days in Dickensian London... I am a humanist and I believe that despite all this recent division and fear, the human spirit shall prevail and we will learn to move forward and make the most out of these challenging times. 


We’re almost at the end of the tour, what has been your highlight? 
Oh boy, there have been many. We were lucky to visit such wonderful theatres with welcoming audiences. I always find something fantastic in each place. I am just grateful to be doing this seven times a week with my favourite people. I am in awe of them all and humbled by their talents. It's all about the people for me! I guess that was also the case for Madame Defarge.


A Tale of Two Cities opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it plays from 10 to 17 September 2016. It then tours to Oxford Playhouse, Richmond Theatre, Bradford Alhambra, Blackpool Grand, Wolverhampton Grand, Brighton Theatre Royal, Edinburgh King's, Cheltenham Everyman and Nottingham Theatre Royal. 

Get tickets for this show by visiting our tour page.