20 october 2008

Actress tries new role as Oxford undergraduate

Joanne Pearce and her husband, Adrian Noble. © Rob Judges
Joanne Pearce's husband, theatre director Adrian Noble, has offered to stop directing plays and do the cooking during her first term as a full-time undergraduate.

Cornish actress Joanne Pearce has undertaken many varied and challenging roles as an actress on the stage and screen, but she has just started her most testing role yet – as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford.

After two years as a part-time student at the University’s Department for Continuing Education, Joanna has qualified to enrol as an undergraduate history student at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. She will be giving up acting for a while and was formally admitted to Oxford University at the matriculation ceremony last Saturday (18 October).

Joanne Pearce is a well-known actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company and on the London stage, but her career also spans television and film. She has appeared in television dramas ‘Silent Witness’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’, as well as playing opposite Kenneth Brannagh as Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’. While researching her roles for historical dramas, she developed a personal interest in history.

In 2006 she enrolled for a two-year part-time Foundation course in Modern History at the University of Oxford and was awarded a Foundation Certificate, the equivalent to the first year of a full time undergraduate degree course. The Foundation Certificate gave her the necessary qualification to apply for the full time degree course in history. She was accepted at Oxford earlier this year after successfully undergoing rigorous selection interviews and completing a History Aptitude Test, a requirement for candidates for all degree courses involving history.

...I was encouraged by my tutors to go for it and you just keep on doing things that you think you can’t do.

Joanne Pearce

Joanne grew up in Cornwall, leaving school with three A’ levels to go to drama school. Her decision to study history at university at a later stage in life is all the more remarkable when you consider her recent academic qualification was achieved alongside a busy acting career and bringing up two children, now aged 13 and 11.

Joanne is married to Adrian Noble, a theatre director who was the artistic director and chief executive of the Royal Shakespeare Company until 2003. Adrian has offered to stop directing plays during her first term and instead do the cooking, allowing her the opportunity to concentrate on her studies.

Joanne said: ‘Neither parent went to university and I went straight to drama school without a second thought about university. I can’t believe I have been given another chance to claw my way back into academia. All the way through my part-time course at the Department for Continuing Education, I was encouraged by my tutors to go for it and you just keep on doing things that you think you can’t do.

‘It was a bit tricky at times: I remember that I was allowed to take my exam slightly earlier than the rest of the students at the end of my first year of the Foundation course. The reason was that I needed to make it on stage that afternoon for a matinée performance in the West End. I had to practice my lines for Sartre’s Kean, playing at the Apollo Theatre, outside the exam hall. Everyone must have thought I was mad!’  

Dr Christine Jackson, her course tutor from the Department for Continuing Education, said: ‘We are excited each year to recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds and age groups who share our passion for history and are keen to pursue a challenging course of study. Joanne is an outstanding role model for other students. She had no previous historical qualification when she joined the course but very quickly impressed us with her flair for history and her ability to combine work and family responsibilities with reading books and writing essays. Her theatrical insights into personalities and events have added lustre to seminars and tutorials.’

Professor Jonathan Michie, Director of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education, said: ‘We are thrilled by Joanne’s success and proud that she will join the growing band of former Foundation Certificate students studying for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Oxford University.  Her enthusiasm for history is inspirational – and dangerously infectious! We would urge anyone else, who wants to return to education, to look at what is available and explore whether they are eligible for a grant or bursary to help with the fees.’