Whatsonstage.com theatregoers enjoyed an exclusive discussion with Kelly Reilly and Alicia Witt (pictured on the night), stars of the world premiere production of Piano/Forte at the Royal Court, at our Outing last week (Thursday 5 October 2006).

Author/director Terry Johnson penned the play specially for Reilly and Witt, who play two very different sisters, daughters of an errant Tory MP who is preparing to marry his third, much younger, wife. Reilly is the loud, volatile Louise, while Witt is the quiet, shy Abigail, a brilliant pianist. Piano/Forte runs until 14 October 2006.

During the post-show Q&A, chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock, Witt and Reilly talked about the honour of having a play written for them, why they’ve enjoyed working at the Royal Court during its 50th anniversary season, and Terry Johnson’s two heads. Highlights of the discussion follow…


Kelly Reilly on how the production came about

I did my first play (Elton John’s Glasses) with Terry Johnson when I was 18, and he said he wanted to work with me again. It had been four or five years since I last worked with him and he met Alicia for dinner because he also wanted to work with her. And then we had a meeting - it was during Hitchcock Blonde and he had these ideas he was keen to write about – and he told us he wanted to write about two siblings who came from the same upbringing but turned out completely different. So the three of us had dinner. I didn’t hear any more about it for two years - and I didn’t want to ask because I would seem pushy - and then I got an email about a year ago and it had a script attached and so here we are. It’s interesting because the characters do feel like two sisters.

On the idea of swapping roles

Kelly Reilly: I can’t play the piano so it’s not likely. But during the course of the evening, I sometimes think I would love to just be quiet for a while! I seem to spend the whole time shouting, and I nearly lost my voice the other night.
Alicia Witt: And I wanted to do the talking and play the louder character. We have definitely built up a rapport, though.

Alicia Witt on working in London

I’m kind of in love with this city, I do not ever want to leave. When I’m on the Piccadilly Line and it says it’s going to Heathrow, I think “oh no, I don’t want to go back to Heathrow and fly back to America!” I want to keep working here, because it’s the loveliest place to do theatre.

Kelly Reilly on the Royal Court

It’s the Royal Court’s 50th anniversary and I wanted to be a part of it. Whenever I want to go and see a play, I always check out what’s on at the Royal Court first because there are some great plays here.

On Terry Johnson’s duel role as writer & director

Kelly Reilly: I think a smart director always makes his actors feel as though they are figuring it all out for themselves, but really he is in control. Because these characters hadn’t been discovered yet, we did feel as though we had a lot of input.
Alicia Witt: We did change some parts of the script, it went through a revision process, and I thought Terry was really great at seeing what needed to be changed about his own text.
Kelly Reilly: It was like he had two heads, the writer and the director. Terry the writer wanted us to serve the script, but Terry the director could see there were things about the script that needed to be changed to make it really work on stage, and so he did change them.

- by Caroline Ansdell