Simon Stephens interview - 'My new play needed to be directed by Marianne Elliott'
Sat at one of the small nightclub tables at the front of the stalls (used for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), writer Simon Stephens glances around the room with the look of a man who is about to make the great space that is the Wyndham’s, his personal playground.
“I’m not a playwright who writes plays for my imagination. I’m a theatre writer, no building makes me more excited than a theatre”, he says, his eyes lighting up as he glances around the stalls and up to the circle. This is the first time he’s been in the auditorium since it was announced his new play, Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, would open here.
“It’s so intimate and so beautiful. It has such energy right in the heart of Charing Cross Road, the heart of the West End. It’s perfect for the play”.
No doubt, when Heisenberg moves in there will certainly be a buzz about the place. Stephens reunites with director Marianne Elliott - who he’s known since childhood (fun fact: they got the same bus to school together) - for her new production company’s first show. It was an obvious decision for Stephens to work with the best director he knows.
“When the possibility of the play having a life in England came about, I felt very deeply that it needed to be her directing it. She understands the yearning and genuine optimism of my plays.”
Heisenberg is partly set in London, and follows a random chance meeting between the 75-year-old British gent Alex, and 42-year-old American Georgie. The play gets its name from the German physicist’s theory – not Bryan Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad – which states that if you know a single particle’s exact location, it is impossible to tell its speed or direction.
This unpredictability resonated with Stephens, and he wrote these characters, described by the New York Times’ Ben Brantley as “the sexiest thing on Broadway” when it opened last year. So, does Stephens think the London run’s leads, Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff, can live up to that title?
“Ken Cranham’s pretty sexy, they’re both pretty sexy people. I think they could do that. Having created the sexiest couple on Broadway, I think I might be about to create the sexiest couple in the West End.”
To Stephens, it’s the unpredictability that provides those sexy moments. “When people have the capacity to do something you never thought they were going to do” he explains, “there’s something pretty thrilling about that.”
One thing, however, that we can be certain about is that no punches have been pulled in assembling a fine creative team. Stephens and Elliott haven’t worked on a play since the epic success that was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and got the whole gang back together.
“It’s not easy to get an insight into how good that team is until you see us work. The image you might get is of people who are aloof or precious, but actually, we just kind of kick around and take the piss out of each other.”
Given all the talk of unpredictability, there’s no doubt that this is a crack team. They earned an armful of Olivier and Tony Awards for Curious together, it will be fronted by “two of the best stage actors there are”, and a writer who has never had more fun writing a play than this one. Here’s hoping it will live up to what, in principle, should be a great piece of theatre.