RICHARD Wilson – one of the UK’s favourite actors – is back at the Crucible to direct “an extraordinary play”.
HE doesn’t make it easy on himself, that Richard Wilson.
For his first offering as an associate director of Sheffield Theatres he tackled the tough family drama That Face. On Thursday he presents a regional premiere of The Pride, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s candid debut set in two different eras.
Both – 1958 and 2008 - revolve around husband and wife Philip and Sylvia and Oliver, the man Philip is in love with.
“It’s very layered and very complex and it is very important the audience realises what’s happening, because the characters are called by the same name,” explains Richard.
“Alexi’s stage direction says it should flow seemlessly between the periods, so the only way we could do that in the Studio is to use back projection
“The furniture will basically remain the same for some scenes. There will be a date going up about the change in time and different wallpaper and clothing. In the 1950s they’re doing received pronunciation, a more clipped English, reverting to their natural accents in 2008.”
Richard fell for The Pride when it was staged at The Royal Court where he was previously an associate. When Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans asked him to direct it at Tudor Square he was even more delighted when the Welshman was cast as Oliver, a novelist and later a journalist. Richard previously directed Daniel in Chris Shinn play Where Do We Live.
“I enjoyed working with him then so I was very pleased to have a go at it,” says Richard, who had the support of the playwright during the first week of rehearsal.
“He said he found the ‘50s stuff easier to write, which is interesting. I suppose it has much more subtext to it because people couldn’t speak their minds. Everything was veiled in a sense so people couldn’t express their love for each other.
“The play is asking the quesion...the sexual freedom of the 2000s, is that a good or a bad thing? But it’s also about being true to yourself. It’s not necessarily a gay play as such, it’s a love story first of all and it’s about honesty and being able to speak your mind.
“The ‘50s is more interesting because affairs were closeted, gay affairs especially. I moved to London in 1959 so I certainly saw the whole thing happen, more or less, and one can’t help but think that liberation was a good thing.
“There’s an aversion therapy scene in the play in the ‘50s - it’s quite shocking to think this was happening in 1958; people were being ‘cured’. You can’t help but feel it’s good to have moved on from that. Then Stonewall (the equality organisation) sent me an email mentioning the Church of Scotland is moving towards the idea that CoS ministers could be gay, so there’s a lot of work to be done.”
By telling the story through the lens of two different eras, The Pride displays a juxtaposition of attitude, honesty and reaction, but love – accepted or otherwise - remains a common denominator.
Sylvia is also a constant, a pivotal baromoter, in the relationship between Philip, played by fellow Scot Jamie Sives, and Oliver.
“Oliver says in the play ‘I know in my heart of hearts it was Sylvia who brought us together’ and that’s what we are finding interesting in rehearsal. I don’t think she realises her husband is gay at first so she thought that by introducing him to Oliver it would help him not to come out, but he was a freer spirit in a way. She’s essential in both periods.
“In the 2000s she brokers a peace between Oliver and Philip. I suppose she’s fairly typical of lots of women in both periods in a way.
“There’s a lot of unspoken stuff.
“It’s very exciting to direct, to see how much you can tell the audience without being too specific. Examining this unspoken love is fascinating.”
Away from Sheffield, former One Foot In The Grave star Richard is still part of BBC1 hit Merlin, now filming a fourth series.
I’m very lucky in that I make it clear to Merlin I’m going to direct - two plays in Sheffield this year - and they build my schedule around that,” he adds. “So it’s nice to be back.”