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Deborah Findlay On ...The Way of the World

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From 2 - 25 February Sheffield's Crucible Theatre plays host to Lindsey Turner's modern take on William Congreve's Restoration comedy, The Way of the World.

Deborah Findlay plays the indomitable Lady Wishfort. Sophie Bush caught up with her to find out more about this new production.

With less than two weeks ‘til The Way of the World opens, what is the mood back stage?

It’s quite busy, but very excited. It’s such a huge play to take on in a short rehearsal period. There’s a lot to accomplish; we haven't had a full run-though yet.

What is the most challenging thing about playing Lady Wishfort?

Where to start... She’s a wonderful, wonderful character. I want to make her a real person. She’s a very complicated woman and I think when you’re given the chance to inhabit one of these amazing roles, you mustn’t be daunted by past histories of how other people have played it. All you can do is just meet it and try to discover how you inhabit it. She’s sort of quixotic and she’s very changeable. She’s extremely rich, which gives her a lot of power, but she’s also very, very lonely, because she hasn’t really got anybody, and the friends she thinks she has aren’t really her friends. So there are all those things to play with and, catastrophically, she’s got this sense of what is possible in terms of a love affair, which is just completely unrealistic, but it’s unrealistic from the point of view of desperation.

So despite the play being a comedy, there is a serious side to it?

There is, actually. It is very funny, that goes without saying, and it’s gorgeous to play all the humour, but there are serious undertones. We discovered that it’s as much to do with property and money as it is to do with love, and that everybody is desperate to maintain their inheritance, their pot of money. It comes down, in the end, to whether you take the money or the lover, and some people - well everybody - chooses the money. So there’s a hard core in the middle of all of this.

Is it difficult to sympathise with those characters?

No, I’d say completely the opposite, but that’s because it’s such a fabulous cast. I think they make most of the characters attractive and sympathetic, but I suppose the other thing is that we’re discovering the world that everybody lives in. Lindsey Turner, the director, has set it sort of modern and it does seem to fit very easily into a modern setting. For the most part, they are very rich people living in a sort of jet-set society where there are lots of parties and events and people going to places to be seen. It’s that very brittle society and, within that world, quite often people don’t seem very attractive. But when you really look at the characters, they’re all struggling to keep their heads above water. I think Lady Wishfort, in particular, has got the money, but she hasn’t got the love, or the friends, and she chooses very unwisely.

So, although the play is over 300 years old, it has plenty of contemporary relevance?

Absolutely, you just have to look at society pages, which we’ve got plastered all over the rehearsal room, and they’re all there. What’s interesting, as well, which I hadn’t quite got before, is that it is very much a family. There’s Lady Wishfort, her daughter, her niece, her nephew, and her son-in-law - quite a small group of people. Quite claustrophobic. And I know that Sinead Matthews and Ben Lloyd Hughes - who play Millament and Mirabell - are looking at the possibility that, throughout the play, they sort of out-grow that; that this sort of hollowness is not what it’s all about and that there’s got to be something more, and I think that’s great.

Have you had to do much research into the world of the play?

Because it's set in contemporary times, we haven't really done much research into the period. Though we have learnt how to play Piquet! In a way we're just sort of using our own experiences. I don't know very much about the concept stores and what have you, but I think some other people in the company are more in on that crowd anyway - so they're regaling us with tales.

You mentioned what a strong cast you have, is there anyone you’re particularly enjoying working with?

Leo Bill and Sinead Matthews and I were in a production of The Glass Menagerie at The Young Vic a year ago, so it's great to be working with them again, but it's a fantastic cast and everybody's bringing their own qualities and their own characters to their part. Because it’s a play with about five or six stories interweaving, you don't see other people for quite a bit. I'm working with Rachel Lumberg, who plays Foible, who's terrific, and Richard Attlee, who's wonderful as Sir Roland. We're having a lot of fun in our scenes, but when we actually get to see a run-through of the whole thing, we’ll see everybody else’s stories and how they all interlink. And I have a feeling there will be different qualities to the different stories. I mean, Congreve’s a very clever writer.

And does Lindsey Turner have a distinct directorial style?

What Lindsey brings is a great immediacy. She’s got some great ideas that I probably won’t tell you about, so as not to spoil things, but she knows how to make it very contemporary and very alive and it’s very exciting.

You’ve worked at the Crucible before, is it a stage you enjoy performing on?

Yes, I love it. It’s a fantastic space to play, because you feel very relaxed. You can take everybody in. It’s very well built, the auditorium; the relationship between the auditorium and the stage is lovely to play. And Sheffield itself has changed hugely: it's beautiful! It’s a very friendly town to work in. I’m hoping to get out to the Dales once we open.

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the production?

Just that the set is going to be beautiful and the costumes are extraordinary. Naomi Wilkinson, who’s the designer, has gone for a really eclectic style. She’s played around with that whole modern/old approach, with hints of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, because fashion now picks on so many different eras, you can mix and match. So, again, it’s going to be really exciting when we get to see everybody in their costumes.


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