Lourdes Faberes: ‘All my friends were in Miss Saigon, but I can’t sing’

Lourdes Faberes. Photo: Kim Hardy
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Lourdes Faberes grew up in the Philippines before moving to the UK, where she now lives. She is starring in a new version of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, and talks to Tim Bano about her career so far…

Why did you want to become an actor?

Not to disparage the idea of a ‘tiger mum’, but I had one. She wanted overachieving children. I was being groomed to be a lawyer but my mum had all these extracurricular activities for us, so after school we would go to tennis or embroidery or arms and ammunition – this was the Philippines. One summer she put me in the National Theatre to improve my elocution but I just fell in love and thought, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ She didn’t like that. There was a freedom in being in organised chaos, in dreamed-up places, in doing things that go beyond what we’re allowed to do in normal life. There is magic in it for me, and freedom from a very conditioned and very strict life.

Why did you move to London?

I just wanted to leave the Philippines. Most of the friends I knew from the Philippines repertory company were in Miss Saigon, so my mother thought at least I would have people in London who could look out for me. I went to only one audition. I decided to go to Central School of Speech and Drama because Judi Dench went there. I went from a matinee in Manila to the airport, flew to London, took a nap for two hours, did the audition and then flew back to do an evening show in Manila. You’re daring when you’re young in ways that seem stupid when you look back.

What were opportunities like for East Asian actors when you graduated?

There was a chunk of time after leaving Central where, because everyone in Miss Saigon was from the Philippines, all the casting directors just assumed I could sing. I’m the only one that can’t. But by sheer volume of musical theatre auditions I scored a few parts, so it was hard to extricate myself from the idea that, really, I can’t sing. A few musicals later, I managed to find an agent who believed me that I couldn’t sing, and off I went into straight theatre.

You’re playing Tamburlaine in a ‘reclaimed’ version of the play – how is it reclaimed?

The historical figure that Tamburlaine is based on was a Mongol-Turk called Timur, so he is from the East. But when Marlowe wrote it, he made Tamburlaine Scythian. The ‘reclaiming’ is in the fact that we’re celebrating the British East Asian heritage of the cast. But it’s not like we’re going to whip out chopsticks in the middle of it. It’s a deeply ingrained sense of being where we’re from, instead of having the Elizabethan flavour and tropes. Also, we’ve chopped seven hours down to two hours. They didn’t have dramaturgs back then.

Tamburlaine is a male character, but the casting has been gender-swapped. Are you playing him as a man?

Yes, because you can’t get around the fact that he married a woman and sired three sons.

CV: Lourdes Faberes

Training: Central School of Speech and Drama, 2000
First professional role (in Philippines): The King and I, 1991
First professional role post-drama school: Jesus Christ Superstar (film, 2000)
Agent: Lee Morgan Management

Tamburlaine runs at the Arcola Theatre, London, until April 8