Natasha at Nottingham Playhouse

Bringing Sleuth to the Stage

Friday 16th September 2016

Natasha Hyman is a Trainee Director at West Yorkshire Playhouse. She is currently enrolled on the MFA Theatre Directing at Birkbeck, and is Assistant Director for Sleuth. Here she give us an insight into the process of bringing Anthony Shaffer’s ingenious play to the Nottingham Playhouse stage.

Sleuth is a corker of a play; once it sets off, it twists and turns to the very end. Set in a country house in Wiltshire in 1970, it is primarily based around the relationship between Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle, who we quickly learn is having an affair with Andrew’s wife, Marguerite. Any production of this cleverly crafted play demands some top-notch performers, as well as a team of astute creatives to bring out the qualities of this period piece that make it relevant for a contemporary audience.

My Sleuth journey began back in July, with auditions, design meetings, and my own research on and around the text. An early meeting to look at a model of the design with director Giles Croft, designer Barney George and lighting designer Alexandra Stafford, clarified my understanding of this team’s vision for this production. Andrew Wyke’s house, where all of the action takes place, has become a space that Wyke can control. The idea is based on an episode of The Avengers called The House That Jack Built (see a snippet below) where Emma Peel gets stuck inside a country house, and every door she goes through takes her back into the same room.

Barney described the set as “a performing space”; it’s playful – lots of button-pressing and whirring mechanisms. AV designer Simon Wainwright, composer Jonathan Girling and sound designer Martin Curtis, have enhanced this sense that the space can be manipulated.

At the time of writing, we are fast approaching press night, but we have been rehearsing this play for nearly a month. The rehearsal process has involved getting the actors ready to be able to perform this mini-marathon play every night for nearly forty nights in a row, as after Nottingham Playhouse, the show transfers to West Yorkshire Playhouse. Unlike most plays, Sleuth is focused mainly on just three actors. There’s a lot of stage business for them to get their heads around, not least the fact that the set spins and shifts around them!

However, the start of the rehearsal process involved a slower, more methodical process of script work. The performance text is the version from the original Broadway run. Giles decided to restore some of the words that had become Americanised in the Broadway version, using the previous West End version of the text and another ‘interim’ script version to help us. ‘Sneakers’ became ‘wellies’ again, and ‘Lysol’ returned to ‘Dettol’. We hope that these choices have restored an “Englishness” and supported the sense of it being a period piece.

For the most part, it was Giles, Deputy Stage Manager Vickki Malden, principle actors, James Alexandrou, Miles Richardson and Cliff Williams, and myself in the room during rehearsals. The process was pretty typical as rehearsals go: the actors worked through the play, and conversations would ensue about the characters, their relationships, their motives and the way their world functions. We discussed the events we don’t see, both those previous to the play beginning, and what happens in the time that passes between the two acts.

While all of this was going on, Vickki would be taking notes of any decisions which were being made that would impact on the rest of the technical team and passing on those notes to them. For example, when it was decided that we needed a drawer in one of the tables to store a prop, that note then got passed on to the technical management who are responsible for the building of the set.

Fast forward a few weeks and the hard work of all the different creatives and cast involved in make this production has resulted in an entertaining yet also strange and unnerving night at the theatre. As the production has taken shape, we have all been struck by how the fraught dynamic between Tindle and Wyke is especially chilling in light of our post-Brexit situation. I’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter, as I’m very interested to see what audiences think of Sleuth…!

Sleuth continues until Sat 24 Sep at Nottingham Playhouse. Click here to book your tickets.