It is the evening of the launch of Nottingham Playhouse’s new ‘Sweet Vengeance’ season of plays taking them through the Autumn/Winter period and on into early 2017. Pre-launch, Artistic Director Giles Croft has kindly agreed to an interview with East Midlands Theatre about his directorial role in the September production of Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth. Phil Lowe interviews. The theatre lobby is already buzzing with Nottingham theatre-goers all keen to find out what the Playhouse has in store for Autumn/Winter 2016.
PL: Good evening Giles. Good to see you again. I expect we shall hear a lot in the event that is about to unfold tonight re: the forthcoming season. However, I wanted to specifically ask you about the production that you are directing; Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth. As we know it was written in the 1970s, hugely popular and in popularity stakes a little like Peter Shaffer’s Royal Hunt of The Sun. Professional and amatuer companies all wanted to do the plays but nowadays we don’t see much of either play. Sleuth is a brilliant play so why have you chosen to do it now?
Giles: Partly because we don’t see so much of it these days. (smiles) It seems to me that it is hugely entertaining, very well written, still surprising, and a rather an exciting funny play. It’s got pretty much everything you want. The problem about doing it is us at Nottingham Playhouse finding a context for it. It’s not an obvious choice for Nottingham Playhouse. When we were talking about the season which has become Sweet Vengeance I started to look for a play that provided balance to Revenger’s Tragedy which Fiona (Buffini) is directing and Darkness Darkness which is the adaptation of John Harvey’s Resnick novel and pretty quickly Sleuth found its way to the top of the list. It is all the things I have described. I was then surprised, as I started to talk to people about Sleuth, how few actually knew what the story was.
PL: That’s good!
Giles: Yeah – absolutely. I think that for those of us who were growing up at a time when it was regularly produced and know the Olivier/Michael Caine film its rather hard to believe that people don’t know it. They really don’t – and so – I think the surprise of it will feel as fresh as anything for most of the audience.
PL: Fantastic. I recall seeing a stage production many years ago at Derby Playhouse and I have seen the film and the relatively recent film remake which I wasn’t so impressed by. The sets both at Derby Playhouse and on the film itself were hugely solid places full of acres of book shelves and quirky nick nacks and even weirder artefacts. The mystery and oddness of the remote mansion with all its visually dangerous and dark elements was part of the Gothic appeal of the whole story. Do you have any perception at this moment as to how your set is going to look to the audience?
Giles: Not like that! (laughs)
PL: You are sharing the play with West Yorkshire Playhouse, yes?
Giles: We certainly are and their theatre is a much larger theatre than Nottingham Playhouse. Actually Phil, what we decided to do – taking as a reference for the set – is to use an idea from an Avenger’s episode during Emma Peel’s time. The episode is called The House That Jack Built which would have been made three or four years before Sleuth was produced. But it’s a brilliant trick they use in the episode and it felt perfect to me for the production of Sleuth as you could do it now. So the trick of this particular episode, and this doesn’t give anything away, is that Emma Peel finds herself in a country house and every time she walks out of the door she is in a different room and she can’t work out why. And as you will remember and again, this gives nothing away about Sleuth, playing nasty games is central to Shaffer’s play.
PL: That’s very interesting. I can almost see that in my head.
Giles: Then the creative team started to talk about how changing rooms could be part of playing games in our production of Sleuth. Nowadays you can project images on stage so effectively. What we felt was a good approach to it was exactly that. So, in effect, what you do is you go on a journey in the play complete with these illusions. You may or may not remember that the set has to be big because there are lots of different things happening in it in lots of different locations. What we can do now is that we can change the whole thing very easily. It’ll still be a solid building. Plus we will still believe that we are in the character Andrew’s house but what he has done to his house is that he has turned the whole house into a cruel trick and a bit of a game to viciously taunt his visitor Milo.
PL: Is it going to be a contemporary piece?
Giles: No. So the way that we’ve dealt with that Phil is this; the piece will feel like it has old fashioned technology in it insomuch that it will have levers and big buttons and Andrew is a man who is playing with technological things. I think the setting will be indeterminate. It is not going to be what they did with the remake which they up-dated. We are saying it is still a period piece but – the technology we have now allows us to do stuff we couldn’t have done in the past. The set is being designed by the brilliant Barney George. The most important thing is about ‘evoking a place’ with all the appropriate sounds and visuals one might expect to see and hear in a remote mansion house plus it to have a dangerous magic about it.
PL: I know it is hard to talk about Sleuth without giving the whole plot away. It sounds like it is going to be a stunning production of one of the most witty, suspenseful and ingenious plays this century. It is fantastic that Nottingham Playhouse are producing it for this coming September. Many thanks for your time today, Giles.
Giles: You are welcome. We look forward to your review in September!
Anthony’s Shaffer’s Sleuth runs 9 to 24 September 2016 at Nottingham Playhouse. Booking open now for the Sweet Vengeance season and all other plays and events.
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