Sexual Perversity in Chicago

David Henshall David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago is at Norwich Playhouse this week. EDP24 spoke to actors Carl Prekopp and Lucy Briers, plus director Martin Hutson.

David Henshall

Daughter of a famous telly star she may be, but Lucy Briers doesn't need the assistance of her dad to make her way in the acting profession.

In fact, it's occasionally the other way round. Richard Briers, of The Good Life and lots more, sometimes calls on Lucy for a spot of advice.

She's bright, attractive, confident and well able to make her own way in the business. But she admits that being given a leading part in one of television's big successes gave her career a very useful lift-off.

She was Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice - playing opposite Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle - “the one with the glasses and the dodgy singing and piano playing”. In fact, Briers plays flute and piano rather well and has a good soprano voice.

“I'd only been out of drama school a couple of years and it was one of my first jobs. To work with people like Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle - and learning so much from them - was fantastic.”

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Recently, she also figured in the BBC 1980s-style detective series, Ashes to Ashes, and shortly she's off to Broadway in her own one-woman show, Some Kind of Bliss. Then it's back to the London stage to appear with Kenneth Branagh in Chekhov's great work Ivanov.

But first, Lucy Briers has what she regards as a very important date in our neck of the woods. She is part of a new group called the Actors Company, based at the Norwich Playhouse, and she appears there this week in their opening show, David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

The Actors Company is sponsored by the Norwich Theatre Royal and Godfrey Morgan Solicitors and hopes to give the region its own version of the West Yorkshire Playhouse or the Sheffield Crucible, providing drama of a national standard. However, says Briers, they will need more sponsorships to achieve this aim, leading, it is hoped, to an Arts Council grant.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago is directed by Martin Hutson, a National Theatre and RSC member, who met Lucy Briers when they played opposite each other as Silvius and Phebe in As You Like It at the Sheffield Crucible.

“It was a terrific production, directed by Michael Grandage, and it transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith,” says Briers. “Martin asked me to do Sexual Perversity before Christmas and I am delighted to be part of this new venture.”

Set in the 1970s, the play explores how men and women dated during the sexual revolution and, in particular, it follows the adventures of confirmed bachelor Bernie.

“To my mind, it is a classic for its time and I know Martin thinks, and I agree with him, that sexual politics haven't gone where people thought they were going in the Sixties and Seventies.

“They haven't achieved that much and I think we're in an age now in which males and females really don't know their roles. So this is a very relevant play because it's about four people who are struggling with what it is to be a man or to be a woman and to be in a relationship.

“Perhaps in the Seventies they thought there might be answers to these questions, but I don't think there are any more.”

Briers plays Joan, who meets Bernie. “He is probably a bit emotionally retarded and really finds women terrifying. He covers this up by being misogynistic and trying to persuade everybody he's the sort of chap who can go into bars and pick up women, but you never know how much is the truth. Joan, you feel, has been badly hurt in the past and covers it up with a shell of cynicism.

“Danny thinks Bernie is a cool guy. He's slightly younger and in a relationship with Deborah. It's like a kind of four-handed dance about affairs, love and sex, really. It's not romantic but I think Martin's direction will be quite stylised and ultimately very funny. The language is rich, economical - and in Bernie's case a bit vulgar but, I think, extremely funny.”

Straight after Sexual Perversity in Chicago, Briers heads for New York where she is part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

“It's very exciting and I shall be there the whole of June.

“Some Kind of Bliss is one day in the career of a national newspaper hack who, with time to waste before she interviews Lulu the singer, walks along the Thames and finds that she is reviewing her whole existence - an experience in which she decides she must change her life.

“It's a look at what it's like to be a working woman in society now, thought-provoking and sad, but funny as well.”

Her mother and father are trying to organise things so they can get to the Norwich show. Richard Briers is very supportive and, she says, will sometimes ring to ask what she thinks about a job offer he's had. It might be because she knows something about an up-coming young director and he doesn't.

“It's lovely to be able to swap advice and suggestions. At first it was me going to him for ideas, but now it's much more a two-way street.”

t Sexual Perversity in Chicago by David Mamet is at Norwich Playhouse from tonight, May 20, to Saturday, May 23. Performances start at 8pm and tickets are £10, concessions available, from the Playhouse box office (located at Norwich Theatre Royal) on 01603 598598.