Abigail Cruttenden is currently starring as Rona Trenting in Blanche McIntyre’s production of Accolade by Emlyn Williams at the St James Theatre. The show is the final piece in Stage One's One Stage season.
Set in 1950, Rona Trenting discovers that her husband Will (Alexander Hanson), a respected author, is to receive a knighthood. But not all is as it seems, Will is living a double life and his marriage is complex. Secrets are exposed, crimes are committed and articles are printed in newspapers leaving the Trenting family unable to hide from society.
Abigail’s theatre credits include: Drawing the Line, 55 Days (Hampstead Theatre), The Seagull (Headlong), Benefactors (Sheffield Crucible), The Knot of the Heart (Almeida Theatre), Afterlife, Fight (National Theatre) and Twelfth Night (RSC). As well as playing Kate Weedon in Benidorm, her television appearances include: The Outcast, Not Going Out, The Royal Bodyguard, Teenage Kicks, The Commander and Sharpe.
I recently spoke to Abigail about why Accolade is such a fascinating play, what made the piece so personal for Emlyn Williams and why she’s thrilled to be working with Blanche McIntyre once again…
Accolade is such a tremendous play to digest. What were your first impressions? Had you seen it before?
I hadn’t seen it before, I definitely tried to get a ticket but it was sold out. I came to it with no preconceptions. I think it’s fascinating and the process for me has been quite difficult – I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the way Rona is.
Her relationship with her husband is so interesting!
Rona and Will have a fantastic relationship, they are incredibly open. I don’t know how much you know about Emlyn Williams’ own private life, but he was married and his wife knew that he had very long affairs. He was gay but also had a wife and children. Interestingly – and quite shockingly – in 1950 it was more shocking for him to be going off and having relationships with men than for him to be with an under-aged girl! So I think Accolade is very much a reflection of his own life, and in fact Emlyn Williams played it in the original production. He really didn’t want to play it; usually he was in his own plays, but I think this one was too close to him. Anyway, in the end he did it.
Alexander Hanson and Abigail
What makes the piece so fascinating is that as an audience member you feel so torn – what Will does is just awful, but you can’t help but feel some compassion. When I saw it I was on the edge of my seat, there were people digging for tissues and gasping…
That’s great! From my point of view it’s very much a bid for understanding and acceptance and not actually judging each other. I think the complexity is brilliant because everybody has a slightly different take on it. Because I haven’t seen it I find it really difficult to tell what it’s like for the audience. I would love to see it [laughs]! There’s lots of comedy, suddenly it takes you down another path and then it’s a thriller and a blackmail case! The emotion creeps up on you.
How did it feel to get the play in front of audiences after the challenging rehearsal process? It’s a more intimate theatre so you can really feel the audience response.
You can! It does go up a long way which I was worried about, but actually it feels really intimate and lovely. Getting the play in front of audiences has been brilliant and has taught us a lot. They go with the comedy a lot more than I expected them to. Audiences have seemed to really, really listen – it really does draw people in. It’s amazing that the play hasn’t been done more! It was so shocking at the time, a friend of my mum’s has given me a theatre book with reviews of the original production. My mum’s friend was fourteen when it came out and was desperate to go – he was an avid theatregoer – but wasn’t allowed to. It was one of those productions everyone was talking about; apparently it was “much too racy” and so on.
Alex (Hanson, who plays Will) is the loveliest man and it has been so brilliant to work with him. Blanche (McIntyre, director) I’ve worked with a couple of times before so I really know her. She totally trusts actors and she really likes actors which I don’t think all directors do. When you feel totally trusted it gives you more freedom. Blanche is incredibly supportive and positive and lovely to work with. The whole cast are really great! Olivia (Darnley) is a good friend and it was very funny because I started working when I was eleven and the first job I ever did was a BBC play called Elizabeth Alone. When we were in rehearsals someone was asking me about it and then Bruce (Alexander) said, “Oh that was my first television job as well!” It’s so funny, we hadn’t realised!
Accolade is the final production in Stage One's One Stage season at the St James Theatre. It’s been a really successful season, has it been exciting to be part of?
Yes! I have to say I didn’t particularly know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I read about it when we were in rehearsals that I realised about the season – I thought I was just doing a job with Blanche! But I did see Breeders (the first play in the season) because Nick Burns who was in it played my husband in Benidorm! I really enjoyed that but unfortunately didn’t get to see Uncle Vanya. Nicola Seed is the loveliest producer and I think she is going to be very successful. She’s hands on and very supportive, so it’s lovely to be part of the season! At first I was part of it without even knowing [laughs]!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Accolade runs at the St James Theatre until Saturday 13th December 2014.
Please visit www.stjamestheatre.co.uk for info and tickets.
Photo Credit: Mark Douet