I got cast as Selwyn Piper, rather than following the normal route of auditioning and crossing fingers, toes and other appendages. At the time I was playing the stiff and formal Archibald Carlyle in East Lynne, and therefore joined the rest of the cast at least two weeks late. Given that rehearsal time was short and the part fairly monumental, this gave me a huge challenge, though not being the type to turn down a challenge there was no way on this earth I was going to turn it down – especially not the part of a monster like Selwyn.
At various times, I’ve described him as a devious, manipulative, flamboyant, egotistical git of a thriller writer and critic, but that does not go half way towards describing my contempt for him. That said, he was enormously enjoyable to play, and certainly has panache.
This reminds me how Hollywood always casts leading British character actors as its baddies, the stars not wanting to play evil – would ruin their reputations, after all. As it happens, they are much more interesting to play than the good guys, and in any case the Brits usually act the leading men off the screen anyway. To be the charming pantomime villain is a great compliment, since they inevitably steal scenes and have the most fun along the way!
As for the play, it did indeed live up to the billing of an evening full of twists and turns, with a shock or two along the way. The story is really a competition to decide who will get the upper hand in this battle of wills and egos, an arena in which Selwyn excels and thrives, though his ex-wife Imogen and his neighbour Peter Fletcher are not far behind. The cast is made up by Selwyn’s loyal secretary (or is she?) Christine Scott, and his notably dense publisher and possible accomplice John Douglas.
Over two Acts they pit their wits against one another, plan and counter-plan, trade cunningly disguised insults and play out the scene to the bitter end. As for who dies and who doesn’t, I couldn’t possibly reveal the details – but if you enjoy a good thriller, do take the time and trouble to go see wherever it’s on!
Four the Phoenix production, I had great fun, though taping a rubber ball to my armpit, then ripping it off in a hurry along with a fair proportion of my hair, caused an inward wince, though nothing the audience could laugh at!!