BY the standards of any actress, Olivia Vinall’s career has soared to pretty stratospheric heights very quickly.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Brixton, landed her first role as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet even before she had left drama school.
It was quickly followed by three meaty roles at the National Theatre - Desdemona opposite Adrian Lester’s Othello in 2013 and then Cordelia opposite Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear a year later and finally as Hilary, the lead in Tom Stoppard’s latest drama, and his first for nearly a decade, The Hard Problem last year.
She cheerfully admits she couldn’t quite believe her luck when the offers came knocking on her door, acknowledging that it was both “extraordinary” and “huge”.
But such was the positive impact she made that she is now back at the South Bank theatre playing not one but three substantial roles, this time in a trilogy of Chekhov’s early plays.
The three - Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull — were premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre last autumn to critical acclaim and are being brought to the National as part of its Young Chekhov season.
They can each be seen separately or as a single event when audiences can see the complete set in one day, starting at 11.45am with the second at 4pm and the third at 8pm.
For the most part the cast has remained the same as the Chichester run with many in all three of the plays. Olivia is one of them and she admits it has been tough going at times, but it’s clear when we chat that she is loving the experience nonetheless.
“It’s so cool,” she says excitedly. “They are amazing plays, each quite similar but with very different energies and with interesting themes so it’s a joy to be part of.
“It’s also great to be bringing them to the National - we have a few new faces in the cast which makes them feel different and fresh - almost like a new production. It’s definitely got a new lease of life.
“It’s quite full on at the moment though - learning lines and direction for one play is pretty normal but doing it for three at the same time is quite something and it’s been physically and mentally exhausting at times. But it’s been fascinating to explore the characters and present the three plays together.”
We chat in a break from the tech rehearsals and despite Olivia’s fatigue she’s delightful company - warm, friendly and very chatty about all manner of things including her love of Brixton.
“I’ve lived there for about four years and love it,” she enthuses. “It’s so cool, has so much energy and there is always so much going on. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
She’s also clearly excited to be back at the National, a venue she has much affection for.
“When I come into this theatre I wonder how it happened!” she says. “I didn’t think I’d get to perform somewhere like this so early on in my career.
“To do the Hard Problem in particular was a gift. It’s fantastic to do new writing and to be in a new Tom Stoppard play was extraordinary and being at the forefront of the story and driving it, well it was a dream.”
Given her obvious talent it’s not hard to see why she’s now becoming a regular at the National.
Although she says she wasn’t familiar with Platonov and Ivanov, Olivia had done a reading of The Seagull as part of a project to raise money for charity at St James’ Theatre.
“The year before I had my audition for these plays, I felt The Seagull was following me around,” she says. “I had never seen a production of it but doing the reading, there was something about it that captivated me. The writing is exquisite and the depth with which he writes made me feel like I wanted to do it at some point and so when it came up it was like a dream come true.
“Being in a rep company was a huge draw too. You hear about rep companies of old and that’s how the actors developed their craft so I leapt at this.
“It’s so wonderful to have this opportunity, to be part of the trilogy and at the National - I have to pinch myself daily,” she adds cheerfully.
Olivia plays Sofya in Platonov, Sasha in Ivanov and Nina in The Seagull. She tells me they are each different characters but through them we see the change and development of Chekhov as a writer.
“It’s fascinating to see the shift in how he writes about women,” she says. “On the face of it Sofya and Sasha appear to be quite similar but actually they are quite different and I’ve tried to show those distinctions.
“Sofya believes in emancipation and is very interested in thinking and ideas, but she lives in a world where she’s not allowed to go to university and her only life is to get married.
“In Ivanov Sasha was of a generation of women who were allowed to go to classes at university, just not get their degree. They were expected to look after the household.
“Sasha has wonderful discussions with Ivanov with whom she has been in love since she was a child. It’s like a meeting of minds - they talk about ideas and philosophy and Russian politics.
“With The Seagul, Nina is the 20th century girl who gets a job and becomes an actress. So you can see the development in his ideas and writing. It’s been really interesting.
“What’s hilarious though is that my characters get younger with each play!” she laughs. “I go from about 25 to 18. It’s brilliant.”
But how does Olivia manage to remember all the lines and to switch characters easily, especially on days when she does the whole lot in one go?
“I’m not sure,” she laughs. “It’s been a huge challenge but to be honest it’s not been as difficult as I thought it would be.
“Coming back to it after the run at Chichester is so lovely though and we’ve had a bit more time to delve deeper and expand and explore ideas.
“The three show days are mad but wonderful and there is nothing like it - in fact it is the best way to see them. As an audience you see the development in his writing and go through such an incredible journey and experience.
“For us though keeping the energy levels up that is the hardest bit and we all have different strategies to cope with all the changes - I like to change my hairstyle which sounds bonkers but you have to feel a different energy with each part.
“But it’s such great fun and I’m having the best time.”
The National Theatre’s Young Chekhov season is on now until Saturday, October 8. Tickets from£15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.