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Giles Terera on the National's Death of England: Face to Face: 'There's unfinished business'

The actor returns to the part of Delroy

Giles Terera (Delroy)
© Steffan Hill

Not that anyone would assume otherwise, but Giles Terera is having a busy year – he's currently touring in a new revival of Blue / Orange, while also rolling off the back of a superbly received book launch in the form of Hamilton and Me, a remarkable insight into how he prepared to take on one of the biggest roles in UK theatre – Aaron Burr. Oh, and he's also set to premiere a full staging of his play The Meaning of Zong next April.

But he's also got a rather exciting new project set to premiere on Sky Arts tonight – Death of England: Face to Face – the final part in a trilogy of texts crafted by the relentlessly brilliant minds of Clint Dyer and Roy Williams. The piece was filmed at the National on the Lyttelton stage (similar to the National's Romeo and Juliet earlier this year) and has already received some glowing reviews.

For those who are unaware, the award-winning actor had been set to star in the second half of Death of England (titled Delroy) last October but was forced to pull out due to appendicitis – leaving his understudy Michael Balogun to present a turn that WhatsOnStage's Sarah Crompton described as "catching all the character's lively, boisterous energy, his anger and above all his pain."

But now Terera is back – opposite actor Neil Maskell: "I had unfinished business with Delroy – I had a lot of feelings left over that I wanted to process", he confesses. This processing was aided no end by Face to Face's medium: "By doing it on film you can commit 1000 per cent to something straight off and throw yourself into a scene knowing it'll be done. We didn't have long to do it, actually, two weeks rehearsals and then shot for three weeks, so it was very quick. I haven't seen it yet but was a very happy process."

The trilogy has charted the fractious relationship between two men – Michael (played by Rafe Spall at the National pre-pandemic) as well as Delroy. The first pair of shows told each's side of the story – this finale, as may be obvious by the title, brings them together.

"It was really hard – one of the hardest roles I've ever taken on", Terera admits, "I'd been on the road with Delroy: a lot had happened between first rehearsing the show and finally making the film – I'd been in hospital, I'd had an operation, we'd obviously been in lockdown – this makes you reassess everything – your priorities in life, what you're prepared to fight for, and that's what Clint and Roy put in their plays. That's before you factor in the point that you're shooting a movie with only two people in it – meaning 100 pages that you have to learn by heart before the shoot begins."

Terera also explains the "crazy situation" where, due to Dyer's choice of form, even when one character is telling a story, they have to also speak on behalf of another: so Delroy will be speaking as Michael for passages of the text. Then, when the roles are switched, Terera would have to mime/ lip-sync along to Maskell's performance. So it's not just learning one's lines – it's learning the entire text.

Neil Maskell (Michael) and Giles Terera (Delroy)
© Steffan Hill

As mentioned, the Hamilton star is now back on tour in Penhall's Blue / Orange – appearing alongside another actor who took on Delroy – Balogun. Terera explains how Death of England has been but one part in a lengthy collaboration: "The thing about Death of England was that we never acted together on that – but we've chatted about the character and the story. Michael and I have worked together a lot – I saw him at RADA and thought he was one of the best natural actors I've ever seen. Since then we've done bits – workshops, readings, and when Clint was looking for an understudy for Delroy I knew who to suggest. We were talking today about what we'll do next – I know he's also got a movie based on his life coming up."

Was it finished business when shooting on Face to Face wrapped then? "Good question. I was frustrated when we did the shoot – the way it ended up last October was not what I wanted, and I was at least able to pour that frustration into presenting Delroy. When we wrapped I was pleased – I'd actually got to do what I wanted to do with him. Getting through it was a relief."

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