Thursday, 16 October 2014

Interview: Thusitha Jayasundera

Thusitha Jayasundera is currently starring as Nadia in the first London revival of The Vertical Hour by David Hare. Directed by Nigel Douglas, the production runs at the Park Theatre until Sunday 26th October 2014.

Thusitha's theatre credits include: The Nine O’Clock Slot (Ice and Fire), Tiger Country (Hampstead Theatre), A Day at the Racists (Finborough Theatre), Dreams of Violence (Out of Joint/Soho Theatre and UK tour), Crime and Punishment, War Horse and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (National Theatre), Twelfth Night and As I Lay Dying (Young Vic) and The Comedy of Errors, Cain, Peer Gint and Pentecost (RSC).

As well as playing Tushura 'Tash' Bandara in Holy City for three years, her screen work includes: The Bill, Broadchurch, The C Word and Above Suspicion. 

I recently spoke to Thusitha about playing such a strong female role, the issues surrounding the piece and what it is like to work at the Park Theatre…

How aware of the play were you before this role came up?
I was aware of the play and that it had premiered at the Court some years ago; I was interested in it but didn’t manage to see it at that time. I didn’t really know anything more than that, just that it was a play which centred around the debate about the Iraq invasion. So I didn’t have any impressions of it, I didn’t know what the part was or what it entailed.

So what were your first impressions when you eventually read the script for the first time?
Well, it’s a very, very strong dynamic female part and she is in it for much of the time and commands the stage a lot. It’s not very often that you get a female part with that level of dominance. It’s a huge technical undertaking because there’s an enormous amount of language and it’s a very particular type of language. It has a sort of a rhythm and cadence which David Hare refers to as a musical score, so you have to honour that to some degree in order to make it coherent and expressive. It is a huge technical challenge in that regard.

What was the rehearsal period like?
Very incisive and very straight. We were quite pushed for time - putting the play on in three weeks was daunting because it is a monstrously large piece in many ways. Nigel, our director, was very straight to the point, we were up on our feet and working the text as much as possible from day one because we didn’t really have the time to use a softly, softly approach. There are times when I’ve felt like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards kicking and screaming because there’s been no respite. I’ve had to launch myself into it and it’s quite an explosive psychological piece.

I think The Vertical Hour works because Nadia has to deal with professional and political issues as well as personal things. 
I think the heart of it is this massive existential crisis for the character. I suppose David Hare is saying these things are never separate in that the person that you are will influence how you relate in larger political spheres and sometimes it may become extremely painful. Nadia is quite combative in many ways which you could argue is because she has had to be. 

I think audiences are really able to relate to her!
We have approached the play largely from a personal point of view, we’ve started by asking who these people are and how do they feel about things, and the larger political spheres happen around them… we’ve tried to humanise it as much as possible because I think that is what David Hare’s intention is, to bring it down almost to a domestic level of conflict and soul-searching.

This production is a big deal for Nigel Douglas as for the past ten years he has focused on television and film. What has he been like to work with?
I think he is loving it and incredibly clear about what needs to happen. He’s been a joy to work with; he structures everything extremely well so that you don’t spend lots of dead time feeling tired and lost. You are being quite forcefully guided towards a particular point and at the end of the day you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere. I think that’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. It’s an enthralling piece and if you have very little time to achieve the depth of it then you really have to hold the room in a very supportive structure and insist on certain things being realised… not by bullying or hectoring the cast but by encouraging and being patient. It’s been a very peaceful time and he appears to be in his element. I don’t think the fact he’s been away for so long has in any way detracted from what he is able to do as a director.

What about the cast?
Everyone has been very supportive, very playful, we’ve had hysterics – the tiredness can bring on hysteria and good naturedness. We have worked so intensely and we have enormous respect for one another so it’s been a very pleasant time, despite the darkness we are trying to uncover.

That’s important, otherwise it could be draining!
I’ve been doing theatre for a very long time and I don’t remember feeling quite this exhausted! It’s daunting because you have to try to hold on to these big ideas and you have to remember your lines – and there are hundreds of them! If you drop one tiny word you can find yourself completely at sea. So all of that adds an enormous amount of pressure and focus into the equation.

The Park is such a beautiful theatre, what is it like to work there?
It’s delightful. We come into a really lovely building with a gorgeous café and we basically put our heads down and work like stink and so far everything has been running really smoothly. There’s a very nice atmosphere in this building and they have strong aspirations to make it very vibrant as it is already proving to be. It’s been lovely, it really has. The theatre is a real asset to the neighbourhood.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Vertical Hour runs at the Park Theatre (Park200) until Sunday 26th October 2014.
Visit for information and tickets.

Photo Credit: TEA Films

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