Actors James Alexandrou and Miles Richardson discuss their roles in Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth, the ultimate game of cat and mouse, which comes to West Yorkshire Playhouse from 28 Sept – 15 Oct.
What drew you to this play and made you want to be in it?
Miles: I was stuck in a small village in Canada in the 1970s during a heatwave, the local cinema was air conditioned, and I must have watched the Olivier and Caine film about 15 times. Therefore it bled itself into my psyche when I was about 13. I thought what a great piece of drama. So when I got asked would I like to go and meet Giles about Sleuth I thought of course, who wouldn’t!
James: I also watched the original film adaptation when I was younger, so when it came along I recognised it but I’d never seen or read the play. Then it was all Giles. Throughout the audition process it was his talking about making the play in a way so that we believe it, about it being funny whilst still buying the twists and the turns of the plot, that interested me.
Tell us a bit about your characters. How would you describe them?
M: Andrew Wyke is a cross between Evelyn Waugh and Jeffrey Archer. Readers may discern from that what they will! Both Andrew and Milo are chancers, opportunists and exploiters. They’re not nice people. I don’t think you’d want to spend time with these people outside the theatre.
J: Milo, I think, is a chap who, due to the circumstances in which he’s grown up experiencing now as a young businessman, has to represent something that he’s not. I think his flaw is that he’s dishonest about who he really is, which propels him to become this suave character who attempts to ingratiate himself with Wyke and what he stands for. He’s dishonest for all the right reasons but in a very horrible way that becomes reversed during the play.
What’s your process for getting into character?
J: Identifying what is common and uncommon between the character and me as myself and recognising where I have to go to get to where Milo is. I think over things a lot and probably too much. I’ve had many a late night thinking about what does this or that mean. Also having faith in the rehearsal process knowing that’ll you’ll get there. Then the first week panic goes away and it’s about working with lovely people like Miles and chipping away at it.
M: I just put the costume on… No I think the trick is to put your prejudices to one side and to adopt the prejudices of the character. Then, once you have all the things they don’t like about life as opposed to what you don’t like, finding out what they do like about life becomes tremendously easier. You’ve got to like your character otherwise you can’t play them.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve found about the play during rehearsals?
M: The most difficult thing is also the most pleasurable. I never leave the stage, except for the interval. In plays you either want to be on stage all the time or just make that one dramatic entrance for 10 minutes then go away again. Never leaving is challenging but joyous at the same time.
J: Sometimes you enjoy reading part of the script but then you come to play it and go “oh how?” How does he buy into what is being sold to him by another character. Understanding the twists and turns, answering “why does he do that”, that’s been the most difficult thing for me. But solving that problem has been really satisfying.
Andrew Wyke loves playing games. What was your favourite board game growing up?
J: I was the computer game generation but Monopoly’s a classic, one Christmas we spent 5 days playing the same game.
M: I don’t play computer games but I’ve been in some, like Dark Souls. I gave my copy to my kids and it’s so complicated they can’t get to where my character is. When I was a kid there was a great board game called Kingmaker, based around the War of the Roses, which I got one Christmas because my parents thought it’d be good for teaching me history. It did, but my poor old mother had to play it with me and games did last for about 3 days, drove her up the wall.
Sleuth is often described as one of the best stage thrillers. What makes it so memorable?
M: It’s got a small cast and 3 principal characters where something like the Mousetrap has 8. Therefore the twists and turns are narrowed down to a much smaller margin. It’s the compactness of it that makes it work so well.
J: Shaffer wanted to subvert the expectations of a thriller and make it satirical and that’s why there is a detective writer involved in the story. All the elements are still there but it’s also doing something heightened on top of that which is poking fun at the genre, which is great to watch.
Sleuth is at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 28 September to 15 October. Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online wyp.org.uk.