The actor chatted to us about starring in Brian Cox’s production of Sinners at the Playground Theatre.
Could you explain what Sinners is about?
Sinners is a love story. Set against the backdrop of a volatile Middle Eastern state. A state under the governance of a fundamentalist regime, one that has implemented a strict criminal code based upon an ancient interpretation of Sharia law. Within this world, university professor Layla and one of her most promising students, Nur, begin an illicit love affair. The story begins at their final chapter. Their relationship has been exposed to the authorities and Layla has been sentenced to death by stoning. Nur’s fate and his involvement in this decision are unclear. All we know is he has been instructed to pile stones in readiness for the imminent execution. They have the time of our play to try understand what got them both to this point in their relationship.
What was it about the story that caught you attention?
When Nicole first gave me Sinners to look at, we were doing a rehearsed reading of a play at the Park Theatre. It was about the attempted coup in Turkey, 2016. It’s themes felt familiar to me. I could remember sitting in a Budapest hotel room, probably like many around the world, glued to CNN as the stealth fighters looped the Bosphorus Bridge. It was visceral, felt real, accessible. However, when I first encountered our story the concept of a ‘death by stoning’ felt abstract – even though I was aware of some high profile stoning cases that had made the international press. Then I went digging and to my horror I discovered that it was still considered a ‘legitimate’ form of punishment in 18 countries. Then when you relate that to the play, the central characters and their decision to begin the relationship- despite the risks – it became so much more consequential and overwhelmingly romantic. I was committed to the story then… but still had some fighting to do before I got the part!
Could you tell us more about your character?
Nur is unfinished. The result of domestic and a greater societal repression. His Father organised a bride for him at a young age, as a way to protect him from the trouble his early political activities had created his family and friends. This stunted his development as a man. He is dangerously curious and finds Layla’s sexuality intoxicating and beguiling. He is susceptible to weakness, paralysing fear and indoctrination. And yet, has the strength of heart to leave the audience, I hope, divided over his involvement in Layla’s punishment.
How has it been working with Brian Cox?
Brian Cox, AKA “the young innocent boy from Dundee” as he playfully refers to himself when the discussion in the rehearsal room turns to lewd matters of a sexual nature – which there are many in our play. It has been a joy – truly. He is such great person to be around. I remember watching a video of him on YouTube years ago, whilst preparing for a Shakespeare audition. In the video he is doing a John Barton-esq masterclass on Titus Andronicus.
I remember watching thinking, “He says it just like I hear it – now if I could only do it like that!” I think I ended up just robbing his choices for my audition. In the room, as a director, he does not mess about. He knows he wants. Yet, it doesn’t turn him into a dictator – a far cry from the character Logan Roy. He is incredibly patient with me, generous with his praise and above all consistent. It’s the consistency that puts you at ease and gives you the frame work to create the best work. He is a wonderful director. I feel very fortunate to work with both Brian and Nicole (his wife and my fellow player) at this exciting time in their lives. They work brilliantly together and have been incredibly supportive of me and my work throughout this process. I’m very proud of what we have created together.
How does it feel to be bringing this story to the Playground Theatre? It’s my first time at the theatre. Such a wonderful space and perfect for our production. I can see in the years to come it being a place that showcases provocative experimental work much needed in the current climate. Peter the Artistic Director is an incredibly passionate person and that has permeated throughout the building. I’m excited to get going.
What can we expect from the production? A very thoughtful, provocative and passionate night at the theatre. That will raise awareness
of the practice of stoning and hopefully ask the audience how far they would go for love?
By Emma Clarendon
Sinners continues to play at the Playground Theatre until the 14th March.