“I know it’s a bit cliché, but my heart has always been here despite moving away.”
In an exclusive interview with Nottingham Playhouse, West End actress Sara Poyzer discusses returning to Nottingham for musical Assassins.
Assassins is Stephen Sondheim’s multi-Tony award-winning razor-sharp musical, which looks at why individuals reach for a gun when they feel their voice can’t be heard. Bending the rules of time and space, assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and inspire each other to perform harrowing acts.
Sara Poyzer – who grew up in Calverton – will be playing Sarah Jane Moore who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975. It follows her illustrious career in London’s West End – including Mamma Mia and Billy Elliot. As part of the interview she talks about the joys of returning to Nottingham, changes at Nottingham Playhouse, working with guns, and the truth about the character she plays.
Assassins – a musical by Stephen Sondheim, based on the book by John Weidman – is directed by Bill Buckhurst, who was at Nottingham Playhouse last year directing Sweet Charity with Rebecca Trehearn. Fellow Nottinghamshire actor Jack Quarton (Coram Boy and Wonderland – Nottingham Playhouse) also joins Sara on stage as John Hinckley.
Tickets are still on sale for Assassins, which will be performed at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 16 November 2019.
What made you audition for Assassins?
When I saw that it was being cast, it was three things that interested me straight away – Bill Buckhurst was directing, it was Assassins by Stephen Sondheim, and the production was coming home to Nottingham.
Will it be strange to come back to Nottingham?
I don’t know the city that well any more. Every time I visit it has changed but I always love to come back and see those differences. Last time I was here it was with Mamma Mia! at the Theatre Royal, and I had the best time; I know it’s a bit cliché, but my heart has always been here despite moving away.
How well do you know the Playhouse?
I used to work at the Playhouse in the Publicity Department before I became an actor. It was one of my first jobs out of college… I knew that I loved theatre and I grew to really know and love the Playhouse. My boss at the time said ‘I think you want to be an actor’. She was right and encouraged me to audition for drama school.
The Playhouse has had so many manifestations over the years, and I think it’s an important and special theatre. I think Adam Penford is the perfect man to come in and mix it up a bit. I’ve seen the seasons that he has programmed so far and it’s really, really exciting.
You’re playing one of just two female characters in this musical…
I’m glad Sondheim and Weidman chose to write about the two female would-be assassins as part of the show – partly because it means I’ve got a job, but I think it’s important to hear their stories, too. They are partly written as light comic relief, but there is some real pathos and truth in their scenes too. They have quite rounded and funny scenes together in amongst some dark and wonderfully disjointed stuff.
One of the great things about this show is that just as is you settle into scenes you are suddenly taken out of them and something new and exciting happens.
Do you think your character has been written differently?
Sarah Jane Moore is a really unusual character and real life person to portray; she was a middle class, middle-aged mom with a seemingly ordinary background – who tried to commit this really terrible act.
But the way she is written in the show is not the same as the real woman. For example, Moore was a good markswoman, not the chaotic inept shooter she’s portrayed as. She got arrested the day before she tried to assassinate the president, for having a gun that she didn’t have a license for and it was taken off her. This was the gun she was going to use to assassinate Gerald Ford. So, she bought another gun from an illegal source, but the sight was slightly off – which is the only reason she missed.
The fact that she missed and that in the papers she was represented as hormonal, hysterical, and ditzy, is perhaps part of the reason she has been portrayed this way. Perhaps it also says something about the patriarchy at the time and the way that women were written about and perceived.
How has it been working with guns?
I have a friend in America who had a gun in a drawer and I couldn’t get over how casual he was about it! It felt really strange to hold one at first – in rehearsals we were all a bit unsure at the start, but that has changed now! There’s something really powerful and scary about holding a gun. We practiced shooting them too which was exhilarating and horrible at the same time.
Why is it the right time for this musical?
There’s always been fascination with people who commit horrendous acts, and this piece explores this curiosity. It feels timely too – not just because the interest in crime and criminal acts, but because of where we find ourselves politically here and in America. It makes you question the American dream and think about those people who continue to fall through cracks and are forgotten about. I think it’s incredibly relevant.
I don’t know what the people of Nottingham will think of this play. I think they should come and see it, though! We have just finished 5 weeks in Newbury and they really loved it there. I think it provokes discussion as well as entertains, it did when I saw it a few years ago and I think that’s what theatre should be about. I think people will laugh too – I hope so anyway! It’s really funny in places and incredibly moving in others.
Do you miss characters once a show is over?
I think the important thing with all these characters is that whilst they seem eccentric – and our director Bill Buckhurst has said this a lot – they’re all following what they believe is their own truth. I still feel like I’ve things to discover in the show and in the role. After playing a part like Donna in Mamma Mia! in nearly 2,000 performances, this a much shorter run which is really exciting and challenging.
It may sound odd, but I often have a short period of grieving when I stop playing a character, a brief moment to say goodbye. I feel like I walk alongside the characters I play as I get to know them, empathise with them and then say goodbye to them.