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In conversation: Falling in love at the Donmar

Published 25 February 2013

Intimacy is a word that goes hand in hand with the Donmar Warehouse. A theatrical powerhouse reaching far beyond its modest 250 seats, acting on stage at the Covent Garden venue is a challenging but enticing prospect for actors, offering no security of a conventional proscenium arch theatre, instead giving them the demanding – possibly daunting – task of performing up close and personal.

So when a pair of young actors have to also get up close and personal with each other and fall in love on stage, that task seems to become all the more daunting. However, as Amy Morgan and Joshua Silver told me when we met during rehearsals, Trelawny Of The Wells verges more on the silly than the sensual and with the rehearsal room full to the brim with intriguing props the pair are concentrating more on learning from cast member Daniel Mays’ comic timing than worrying about their kissing technique.

More than just a love story, Pinero’s classic is an ode to the theatre itself and speaking to the bubbly Morgan and her co-star Silver, this passion for the craft has clearly crept through into rehearsals. While it may be acclaimed director Joe Wright’s (Atonement, Anna Karenina) stage debut, his background growing up at his parents’ Little Angel theatre makes him no stranger to the stage and if you think his subsequent award success and Hollywood achievements would make him an intimidating presence, as Morgan and Silvers reveal, an unusual approach and unashamedly excitable personality has made for an experience like no other.

How does it feel to be working at the Donmar Warehouse?

Morgan: I’ve worked here once with Jamie Lloyd [in 2011’s Inadmissible Evidence], but it’s completely different this time. I love that theatre, it’s an amazing theatre and everyone is so close to you. You get instant feedback from them, whether they’re sleeping in the front row or really laughing hard. You can make direct eye contact with people, which is nice.

Silver: I’m really looking forward to that.

Does that intimacy make your job as actors easier or harder?

Morgan: I think the first time you do it, it’s really hard because you can so easily get distracted. If someone gets up and needs to leave or go to the toilet, they’re right there. But once you’ve done it once, you feel like they’re all your friends! In a proscenium arch, they’re just so far away, I think that’s a bit scarier in a way because you can’t see them through the lights.

Was director Joe Wright’s involvement in this project a draw?

Silver: It was a massive draw. The play’s amazing, the Donmar is an incredible theatre, and obviously Joe being part of this as his first play is so exciting. He’s learning while we learn and that’s a really exciting place to be. I love his films so it was just such an exciting prospect.

Morgan: Very exciting… bit scary. You think ‘You’ve never done a play before and I’ve never done a film before, so how’s this going to work?’ But he was really open about it all and quite down to earth. When he met everyone he said ‘I don’t know… it could be awful, but we’re going to do it together and see where we end up.’

Silver: It does feel like that, everyone’s really together on it. It’s an amazing cast, we’re lucky. People like Ron [Cook] and Maggie [Steed] and Peter [Wight], to learn from them is a joy, honestly.

Morgan: Danny Mays’ comic timing is just impeccable.

The play has been described as Pinero’s love letter to theatre. Is that a passion you share?

Silver: Definitely. And it’s really lovely to be a part of that. What’s so funny about this is how it takes the piss out of actors, it’s just funny watching the scenes when you can see how dramatic and self-involved some actors can be. There’s a really important lesson in that.

Morgan: The play doesn’t take itself seriously – there’s some really nice moments that we’ve emphasised, but overall it’s a very simple play. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the theatre I just like watching really simple pieces, just a story that’s told well. I’m not that interested in big acrobatics or how clever can we be with this, I just like going to see good actors.

Silver: Joe’s really good at getting clarity out of the scenes, that’s what I think he’s aiming for because with these big characters I think it could be quite easy to put stuff on top of what is such a beautiful story. Letting it speak for itself is really exciting.

Has Joe talked about growing up in the theatre?

Morgan: Bits and bobs. His mum has been in to watch some of the rehearsals and she’s made some of the food! We’ve got a big dinner scene and she’s made eggs and a ham, a goose and this big tongue. She’s made these little comedy things where you can pull the front of the tongue so it comes up. His sister’s been in and done puppetry with some of us, so yeah, he doesn’t talk too much about growing up and his personal life but they’re still very much around him and involved in everything.

Silver: It’s still part of him. You can see he gets really excited by those things.

Morgan: We were in the theatre the other day running through some scenes and he got all excited like a little kid saying ‘Oh I just want to get in here now’ and we went ‘calm down, it’s only a week’!

You have to fall in love during the play. Is that a particular intense relationship to create?

Silver: It’s interesting because Arthur is completely besotted by Rose from the get go. Rose doesn’t really know that she loves him until just before the end of the first half and they sort of part ways. He’s pretty useless at the beginning, because he’s grown up in this confined space he doesn’t know how to express his emotions at all, whereas Rose has spent her life doing it on stage, that’s where they clash until they realise that their happiness is with each other.

Morgan: It’s that classic cliché of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, the whole story’s based around that. She’s grown up in this theatrical world with her mam being an actress and everything’s gone brilliantly for her up to this point, so when it doesn’t work out, that’s when she starts to grow up.

Silver: For Arthur it’s also about falling in love with the world of the actors. He loves the way they can express themselves and be so honest with each other. Growing up in such a refined, closed, guarded mansion house with his horribly restrictive Grandparents, he just longs to be free like them.

Morgan: We have one really long snog in the play, don’t we?

Did you talk about it beforehand?

Silver: We just snogged.

Morgan: Yes, there’s this sort of unspoken rule about no tongues that we’ve adhered to so far…

Silver: So far… You’d like to breathe though.

Morgan: That would be nice. Parts of the play are quite stylised and at the moment we kiss and we’re just holding the kiss as if we’re frozen while somebody else has dialogue, so I think we need to figure out where to put our noses. It’s quite technical and not very romantic. I’m sure it will be in the moment.

Silver: It will be beautiful.

The play is about being in a relationship and working in the theatre not always mixing. As actors, do you think that’s true?

Morgan: I think it’s difficult dating other actors. Everyone does it. All the time. But it is really hard because inevitably you’ve got two really big egos in one room saying ‘But I’ve got an audition next week’, ‘but we’ve got to do my lines, because I’ve got an audition next week!’ So that can be quite difficult, but it can also be quite brilliant because you understand each other.

Silver: That’s when it’s good. But it’s also such a small world, the acting world. Everyone knows everything.

Morgan: Everyone knows everyone. It would be nice to have a relationship with someone who wasn’t because they’d go ‘Shut up, I don’t care’!

Silver: And also you can switch off and talk about other things. I live with a friend who is an actor and we go home and talk about acting a lot and sometimes it’s nice to just talk about, you know, rice pudding.

Morgan: I live with Aimeé [Edwards] in the cast and we go home and we have a good half an hour of de-rigging the day and then we go ‘okay, that’s it now’.

Did you know each other before working on the show?

Silver: No. I’d seen Amy before, she played The Country Wife up in Manchester.

Morgan: I didn’t know I was in it [Trelawney Of The Wells] then. The audition process with Joe was bonkers. It was nothing like your normal audition. Normally you come in and meet the director and have a little chat about the play, read a couple of scenes and they go ‘Thanks Amy, we’ll be in touch’.

Silver: And then you wait…for ages.

Morgan: And then you get a recall or you don’t. But he was half an hour late. Bearing in mind auditions normally last 10, 15 minutes, he chatted for 25 minutes about rhetorical gesture in Victorian theatre. I could see Anne McNulty, the casting director, looking like ‘come on… there are people waiting outside…’, but I was the first of the day and he was just so excited about doing it. We read through the scenes, we did some exercises on the stage… I was in there for an hour. Then I left and didn’t hear anything for about three months. He came to see The Country Wife in Manchester and called me later to offer me the part. You had a completely different experience again.

Silver: Yes I just went in, met him, he was very excited, did it, left, he ran down the corridor and offered me the part in the corridor! Which I think is completely against the normal way of doing it, so Anne, the casting director was like ‘just calm down!’ But he was so excited and what’s so good about Joe is that excitement is infectious, so you get excited and then all of a sudden the meeting goes well because you’re not scared anymore.

What would you like to do next?

Morgan: I’d like to do a sitcom, I’m dying to do one. I’d love to do a sitcom with Julia Davis.

Silver: Yeah, I’d love that! Something funny. This is so nice because at drama school – I don’t know about you, Amy went to Royal Welsh and I just finished at RADA – so much of it is about crying! My experience was ‘who can cut themselves open on stage emotionally?’; it’s so nice to be part of a comedy where it’s not stressful! There are difficulties but you don’t take it home with you in the sense that you suddenly become melancholy in yourself.

And if you had to do another love story, who would your dream romantic co-star be?

Silver: I’ve only got eyes for Amy at the moment.

Morgan: Ahhh you’re such a sweetheart! [laughs] I don’t know…

Silver: I watched the film Matilda the other night and Miss Honey…she’s a dream isn’t she?

Morgan: God, I haven’t thought about this for ages! Eddie Redmayne, I saw him recently in something, that would be quite nice. Oh no… Chris O’Dowd. Maybe a nice love thing with Eddie Redmayne on stage and Chris O’Dowd on TV. And maybe Joshua Silver as well.

Silver: Thanks.

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