Rock Cast Share Views on Stoppard at WOS EventDate: 11 August 2006
Whatsonstage.com theatregoers were treated to a unique insight into the music and the politics of Tom Stoppard’s Rock 'n' Roll at last night’s Outing to Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed production of the play at the Duke of York’s theatre. At an exclusive post-show discussion, associate director Paul Robinson and cast members talked about their experiences with the new play, which transferred to the West End from the Royal Court where it had its world premiere in June.
Rock 'n' Roll spans the recent history of Czechoslovakia between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution - but from the double perspective of Prague, where a rock 'n' roll band came to symbolise resistance to the regime, and the British left, represented by a Communist philosopher at Cambridge.
Joining Robinson for the post-show discussion were cast members Brian Cox (who plays Max), Sinead Cusack (Eleanor/older Esme), Rufus Sewell (Jan), Alice Eve (younger Esme/Alice), Peter Sullivan (Ferdinand) and Nicole Ansari (Lenka). Highlights from last night’s discussion follow…
On their first impressions of the play
Sinead Cusack: Whenever I get sent scripts as opposed to going up and auditioning, I’m so delighted I say “yes” immediately. But when I read this, and I read it many times before I started rehearsing, there was so much that I didn’t understand, there really was. All the political and historical and rock music detail. But I knew that I really wanted to play these two women. I wasn’t sure how I could, but I knew I wanted to do it. So for me it was exciting from the start and I’m enjoying playing here still.
Rufus Sewell: I’m similar to Sinead in that I didn’t understand it all, we had to work it out together.
Sinead Cusack: Yes, when I spoke to Rufus about Arcadia (the Stoppard play he appeared in at the National), he said “Christ, I was three weeks into rehearsal before I worked out whether my character was alive or dead”.
Rufus Sewell: When you get a new Tom Stoppard script through your door, you’re almost forming the word “yes” before you’ve even opened the envelope. There were speeches that I kind of got the gist of, and having worked with Tom and Trevor before, I knew that there would be a nice grown-up to explain it all to me when I got to rehearsal. So I said “yes” thinking that in between the two bits I understood would be explained to me. You get the benefit of us having spent weeks and weeks before we even stood up to rehearse just having been talked through it. Even within one speech, the connections between the thoughts seem so incredibly distant at first, but you do it until they appear simple for you.
Alice Eve: I’m very lucky to be part of this, it’s quite phenomenal. I understood my part and as far as I was concerned that was all I needed – although, actually I didn’t. I auditioned on tape because I was out of the country at the time, and I didn’t work out that Esme turned into Alice. So I did one of Sinead’s speeches and then Trevor said to me in the audition “um, you do know that you got it wrong?” and I said “no I didn’t get it wrong actually, I just didn’t have another person to read with so I did it as a monologue” – and I think he believed me!
Peter Sullivan: It was different for me because I got the play straight away. I was talking to Trevor about it for about an hour. Then Tom said “have you got anything else to say?” and I said “yes this and this and this and this…” and he said “yeah OK.” And that was it. At the other end of the tube, I got a phone call from my agent saying “they’re desperate for you”.
Sinead Cusack: You liar!
Peter Sullivan: The ideas are simple, though. They’re saying, copping out with rock ‘n’ roll and extreme politics are no longer an option, we have to get our hands dirty and get in there.
Brian Cox: I was fascinated to see Tom’s progression as a writer. He’s a writer who has been on a remarkable journey. I’d seen The Coast of Utopia, which I had really enjoyed. I think this is in line with that in terms of a personal odyssey.
On how the death of Syd Barrett, who is heavily referred to in the piece, affected their performances
Nicole Ansari: It’s a homage to Syd in a way. We were all very sad and moved by him passing. Secretly, I know a few of us were hoping he’d show up because other members of Pink Floyd came to see it. His spirit is so palpable within the piece, we all hoped somehow he’d hear about it and come and see it. And then it didn’t happen and he died and it was really sad.
Sinead Cusack: I remember finding it very hard in the second act when we talk about him just after he died.
Rufus Sewell: I only found out just before I went on stage the night he died. It made that line “does Syd Barrett still live in Cambridge?” seem really spooky. There was a different feel to it that night.
On the transfer of the production
Paul Robinson: We’ve gone from 400 to over 600 (seats), which does make a difference. And they’re playing to a higher level here so they’re taking in and including an audience up there that can potentially feel as though they’re not part of it. But this company is very dextrous and brilliant and they’re dealing with it well. And, of course, it was a moment to re-preview in a way. I put it in here, but Tom and Trevor were very hands-on with the opening process. They were here every night in the first week giving notes. Tom changed some text as well and the ending – not a significant difference, but something that required a lot of work and I think that’s improved it.
On affecting a Czech accent
Rufus Sewell: I’ve worked a lot in Prague over the last few years. Coincidentally, I’ve done about six projects there – nothing to do with Prague specifically, but I think making films is a lot cheaper there. I did three films in a row and ended up working with a lot of the same people again and again and again and I got very comfortable with the accent I think. I only learned two words in Czech, one was beer and one was horse… and I forgot horse. But I’ve spent years in Prague altogether. I had one driver for the past four jobs and a lot of him has crept into this. A lot of the mannerisms come from trying to communicate as a reaching forward and trying to make people understand.
- by Caroline Ansdell