The pleasure is in creating effectively a new play, says Will Keen who takes to the stage in Richard Eyre’s production of The Stepmother by Githa Sowerby in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre (until September 9).
The drama promises a “searing look at manipulation, money and matrimony” – a piece which will almost certainly be new territory for pretty much everyone, despite being written in 1924.
“It feels like we are working on a new piece,” says Will who makes his Chichester debut as Eustace Gaydon.
“It is great to come across writing that is so, so detailed and fine and subtle. She writes incredibly interestingly across the board, and the characters are fascinating. She is very, very clear about power and secrets and subtexts, particularly in communication in terms of class and how we wield power through how much information we have, which is a peculiarly-English exercise in power…”
The piece is set in a comfortable house in Surrey. When the orphaned Lois Relph accepts a marriage proposal from an older man, Eustace Gaydon, she believes she’s been rescued from an uncertain future.
Establishing a successful business as a dress designer, Lois leaves her fortune in her husband’s hands.
But when one of her devoted step-daughters needs her help, Lois is forced to address what drew Eustace to her in the first place – and, at last, to face the dark truth at the heart of her marriage.
“There is this wonderful subterranean world which is hinted at, and she writes very detailed stage directions which are very useful.
“It was one of those plays which I liked when I read it the first time, really liked when I read it the second time, really, really liked when I read it the third time and absolutely adored when I read it the fourth time.
“I am this widower who marries a much younger woman who becomes the mother to my children, and she sets up a very successful business.
“I don’t think it is giving too much away to say that my business dealings are less successful, and so there are a lot of issues of envy and male domineering sexual power.
“She is a quieter and much more focused person. She is hypnotic, but she is not someone that wants to draw all the attention in the room – although she does.
“But she is very clever and has a much clearer sense of her integrity and what she needs to be doing. He is someone who has a much more fluid relationship with himself and with his integrity…
“I would say the piece is a family drama, but it is brilliantly plotted and constructed, and you are given the information as an audience in a fairly cliff-hanging way at times. There will certainly be moments when you gasp!”
Box office: 01243 781312 or cft.org.uk.
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