Fiona Shaw

Fiona Shaw is one of the most recognised actors of her generation. Her awards include the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actress in Sophocles Electra, Shakespeare As You Like It and Brecht The Good Person of Sechuan in 1990, and Machinal at the Royal National Theatre in 1994.  She was awarded CBE for services to Drama in 2001.


Fiona Shaw was born in County Cork, Ireland and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She is one of the most recognised and highly praised actors of her generation, known for her theatre work (Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Euripides ‘Medea, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Treadwell’s Machinal) as well as her film and television work (notably, the Harry Potter series, Three Men and a Little Lady, True Blood, Mrs Wilson and Killing Eve).

In the 2018/19 season Fiona will direct a new production of Cendrillon for Glyndebourne, seen first on the 2018 Tour and then in the 2019 Festival.

Fiona has also directed Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea, Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for English National Opera.  Her production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia was originally produced for Glyndebourne on Tour and has since been seen at the Glyndebourne Festival and the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. Other recent directing engagements include Cherubini’s Medea for Wexford Festival Opera and a semi-staging of Berlioz’ L’enfance du Christ with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati.



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    13 Oct 18 MASSENET Cendrillon
    Glyndebourne on Tour

    “For its first production of Massenet’s Cendrillon, Glyndebourne has enlisted Fiona Shaw. And what a shrewd move that proves to be: the director turns this fin-de-siècle confection into a complex modern-day fairytale and a story of psychological transformation. Yet if that sounds rather worthy, this production is anything but. It’s spun from magic and dreams, and shaped by enchantment and imagination…If at times the sheer wealth of invention on stage, with lusty chorus, tumbling dancers and varied lighting, overwhelms, it’s always an intoxicating riot. This production comes to the summer festival next year. Put your wishes in with the ticket fairy as soon as you can.”
    Rebecca Franks, The Times, 16 October 2018

    “Fiona Shaw’s direction gracefully explores the story’s psychological resonances – the power of the imagination to shape our identity, the gap between childhood fantasies and adult realities, the way that our objects of desire reflect ourselves. The fluid nature of gender becomes central. You may feel you’ve heard enough about this phenomenon lately, but given Massenet’s insistence that the prince should be sung by a woman en travestie, it is surely justifiable to suggest that Cendrillon may be looking for love with someone of her own sex – a possibility that Shaw presents with refreshing ease, warmth and good humour.”
    Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 14 October 2018

    “Shaw’s response is to stage the opera as a surreal, modern-dress phantasmagoria, much of which takes place in the mind of Alix Le Saux’s Cendrillon as she dreams by the fire. Caroline Wettergreen’s Fairy is an idealised memory of her dead mother, returning to protect her from her self-regarding stepmother, Madame de la Haltière (Agnes Zwierko) and her two ghastly daughters (Eduarda Melo and Kezia Bienek). The magical apparatus is genuinely entrancing…The ubiquitous image of a butterfly prefigures Cendrillon’s eventual release from drudgery, and the dances at the ball accompany a game of hunt the slipper. Massenet’s decision to cast a mezzo as the opera’s hero, meanwhile, allows Shaw to suggest elements of gender fluidity in the relationship between Cendrillon and Eléonore Pancrazi’s Prince, who literally wears a heart on his/her sleeve, before surrendering it in their big duet.”
    Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 15 October 2018

    “Imaginative direction from Fiona Shaw even manages to avoid the tedium of the long ballet sequences in Massenet’s score by introducing some excellently humorous touches into the dancing in collaboration with choreographer Sarah Fahie.”
    William Hartston, Express, 18 October 2018

    “Cendrillon is a Glyndebourne Success and a Revelation in Repertoire…Fiona Shaw’s awesomely fertile imagination comes into play (what range: remember her as Deborah Warner’s Medea, with her feet in a pond?) Shaw’s achievement, for me, was not only the scintillating work she had clearly poured into Dazeley – and her focus on him at unexpected moments (or part-unexpected, for he has a couple of breathtakingly moving solos – but in the way she kept us surprised, and at best, on tenterhooks…A Glyndebourne success? You bet. A revelation in repertoire, proving that Gus Christie’s willingness to take some risks is a huge asset? You bet too! I won’t listen to anyone hereafter who tells me that Massenet’s 36-odd operas are boring or old-hat or unoriginal. He was a star, and Shaw’s Glyndebourne Tour team are stars for giving it to us full-frontal.”
    Roderic Dunnett, Seen and Heard, 16 October 2018

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    05 Jul 15 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia
    Glyndebourne Festival Opera
    “This was one of those all too rare occasions when a great work of art came into conjunction with a piercingly intelligent, immaculately realised staging and superb singing, acting and playing to produce a performance of enthralling emotional power and physical beauty – opera, one might say, for grown-ups…Fiona Shaw’s supremely nuanced direction explores the moral implications of rape in sharp contrast to the shallow, gang-bang sensationalism of the Royal Opera’s scandalous Guillaume Tell. Here the focus is on complexities of feeling and motive rather than brutal violation, filtered through the Male and Female Chorus, two figures envisaged as a married couple of the post-war era, grappling with existential problems of evil and despair as well as questions of marital fidelity and male aggression.”

    Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 06 July 2015

    “Fiona Shaw’s production is clear-sighted and non-sensational…Shaw’s vision of the complexity of Britten’s characters and their interactions widens and deepens the scope of the opera, while her intense psychological probing rescues the piece from any danger of descending into a tract or morality play; she also underlines the opera’s close connection to the composer’s creative obsession with the destruction of innocence.”

    George Hall, The Guardian, 07 July 2015

    “When is a rape not a rape? It’s an unsettling question — far more so than anything offered up by the current headline-grabbing William Tell at the Royal Opera House — and one that lies beneath the meticulous dramatic archaeology of Fiona Shaw’s The Rape of Lucretia. Unlike William Tell, however, there seems little chance of this attack starting riots. Where the director of Tell asserts, Shaw interrogates — a delicate, insistent questioning that probes further and more intrusively, a violation of ideological rather than physical absolutes.”

    Alexandra Coghlan, The Spectator, 11 July 2015

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    19 Oct 13 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia
    Glyndebourne on Tour

    “Shaw’s superb production of Britten’s chamber opera explores such questions with deeply intelligent ambivalence.”
    Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 20 October 2013

    “Shaw’s brilliantly convincing solution”
    Michael Church, The Independent, 21 October 2013

    “…inspired new production”
    Mark Valencia, What’s on Stage

    “Fiona Shaw makes her directorial debut for the company, characteristically drawing out revealing insights”
    Edward Bhesania, The Stage, 20 October 2013

    “Fiona Shaw is mindful of every nuance, she and her cast inhabit every nuance and dig deep in every sense. It is a remarkable piece of work.”
    Edward Seckerson, The Review, 20 October 2013

    “Does every story have to have a meaning; every work of art have to make a definitive statement? Fiona Shaw’s searingly beautiful interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s troublingly ambiguous opera The Rape of Lucretia admits that it is not always possible to explain why people do what they do, or how we find renewal afterwards, wrapping itself instead around the repeated question: “So brief is beauty. Is this all?””

    Stephen Pritchard, The Observer, 27 October 2013

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    01 Oct 11 MOZART The Marriage of Figaro
    English National Opera
    “Humane, intelligent and buzzing with energy, Fiona Shaw’s new production of Mozart’s comedy – perhaps his greatest and certainly his most lovable opera – has much to recommend it.”
    Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 06 October 2011
    “Fiona Shaw’s direction brings out the pace and pathos of Mozart and Da Ponte’s masterly collaboration.”
    Colin Anderson, The Opera Critic, 10 October 2011″a production full of thought and care.”
    Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, 09 October 2011″As the orchestra belatedly tunes up, a blind Don Basilio taps his way to the harpsichord at the side of the stage. His clothes are recognisably 18th century, as is his instrument.
    But the labyrinthine set beyond (by Peter McKintosh) is of no particular time or period, a flimsy abstraction of floated walls and doors, rooms within rooms, corridors within corridors, a kind of residential maze. Director Fiona Shaw then delivers her first chuckle of the evening, as Basilio traps an errant wasp inside his harpsichord and the “buzzy” strings of Paul Daniels’s ENO orchestra begin the overture. The pacing is properly brisk, with a crisply incisive period manner portending a frenetic 24 hours in the Almaviva household – and as the stage revolve springs into action, another dimension is added to the visuals as we traverse the rooms “below stairs”, where staff are busily making ready for the day’s events. So Shaw has quickly and confidently nailed the age-old problem of lending a contemporary edge and relevance to the 18th century context.”
    Edward Seckerson, Independent, 10 October 2011″Snorting and stamping, scratching his back with the bleached and polished horns of a bull, Count Almaviva is the Minotaur in Fiona Shaw’s ENO production of The Marriage of Figaro.
    Played out in a fast-revolving maze of staircases and corridors – its white-walled spaces now a laundry room, now a bakery, now the meat store, now a moonlit parterre – Mozart’s opera becomes less a comedy of birthrights than a satire on masculinity. Bound by his word to renounce droit de seigneur, the Count faces emasculation at the hands of his servants and his wife. Bound by contract to marry Marcellina, and facing cuckoldry, Figaro is emasculated already.
    Fey wit, heavy symbolism, earthy vulgarity and the creeping sourness of long-nurtured grievances collide to odd effect in Shaw’s first Mozart staging. With a team of eight actors, she deftly choreographs the below-stairs industry of a vast estate, its brisk traffic echoed in the shadowy projections over designer Peter McKintosh’s corrugated plastic labyrinth. The costumes are period, the trappings of indentured labour and aristocratic leisure spiked with later artefacts: a Super 8 camera for Cherubino, an early vacuum cleaner for Susanna. Oranges are arranged and removed, to remind us that we’re in Spain, while the bulls’ skulls and boar’s carcass underline the notion of the Count as hunter and collector.”
    Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday, 09 October 2011″Yet again actress Fiona Shaw brings sure theatricality to directing opera.”
    Alexander Campbell, Classical Source, 10 October 2011
    “As one would expect Shaw casts a revealing and often merciless light on Mozart and Da Ponte’s richly complex characters. She often slants a scene in ways that forces the viewer to re-think their view of what is at play and she achieves this without betraying or distorting the work as a whole…I did enjoy Shaw’s production because it was both revealing and faithful to the piece and for the fully rounded portrayals she elicited from a talented cast.”
    Sebastian Petit, Opera Britannia, 06 October 2011″Fiona Shaw’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro for the ENO focuses on the theme of entrapment. Her first victim? A noisy bee. Don Basilio finds himself so harassed by its buzzing, he confines it to the body of a harpsichord. Magically, a few seconds later, the low hum reappears – on strings and bassoons. It’s classic Shaw: a clever, symbolic, funny and possibly superfluous bit of theatrical punnery. She doesn’t overdo the anomie. The political and class dimensions are but lightly touched upon…It was a masterstroke. The intermittent, squally run-arounds – the dashing through servants quarters, kitchens, sculleries, past butchers blocks and clothes chests – was a lovely counterpart to the whirlwind orchestral accompaniment. If Shaw rather overloaded the place with dead bulls’ skulls (hinting not so subtly at the possibility that this was a Casanova’s graveyard), and lots of prosaic but no doubt meaningful projections, her ensemble work and eye for telling details more than made up for it.”
    Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk, 06 October 2011
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    14 Nov 14 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia
    Deutsche Oper Berlin 2014
    Shaw’s production is also marked by an incredible attention to detail, with great attention paid to the music and to the characterisation of the singers. Every movement, every vocal colour change, every explosive consonant adds to the characterisation, and what’s more, all of this is supported and perfectly matched to the music. Duncan’s libretto is not the best one that Britten had the pleasure of working with, and there are many occasions where it falls into chains of abstruse metaphors or trite similes, and others where the meaning is wholly unclear. This production overcomes these inadequacies; every moment of potential confusion is given unambiguous meaning, as if it could never have possibly meant anything else. As a theatre director and actress Fiona Shaw doesn’t just create a unified thought-provoking production, she turns all her singers into actors. This is what opera needs in the 21st century, and Shaw proves that this doesn’t detract from the musical experience, but enhances it in ways you can hardly imagine.
    Max Woods, Bachtrack, 17 November 2014
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    01 Jul 15 ARTICLE Fiona Shaw: 'Operas are more interesting than plays'
    The actress-director tells Rupert Christiansen why Britten's The Rape of Lucretia has lured her back to Glyndebourne

    Click on this link to read the full article by Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 01 July 2015

Opera Productions

2019 MASSENET Cendrillon Glyndebourne Festival Opera
2018 MASSENET Cendrillon, Glyndebourne on Tour
2015 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
2014 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia, Deutsche Oper, Berlin
2014 MOZART The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera (revival)
2013 BRITTEN The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne on Tour
2011 MOZART The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera
2010 HENZE Elegy for Young Lovers, English National Opera at the Young Vic
2008 VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Riders to the Sea, English National Opera