|The French Lieutenant's
Milton Keynes Theatre
2-7 October 2006
Mats: Wed & Sat: 2.30pm
Set in 1867, the story traces
the relationship between Sarah Woodruff, a social outcast
in Victorian Lyme Regis, and Charles Smithson, a well-to-do
paleontologist, drawn to her defiant spirit.
Charles becomes fascinated
with Sarah (who is known as locally as ‘The French Lieutenant’s
Woman’ following a rumoured affair with a married French
sailor) when he sees her cloaked figure standing alone at
the end of a sea rampart.
In his quest to discover
the truth about her Charles eventually risks his own social
ostracism when he breaks off his engagement to his respectable
and wealthy fiancée to pursue Sarah, who is not the hapless
victim he has assumed her to be.
Fowles' groundbreaking novel The French Lieutenant's Woman is regarded
as one of the greatest books in 20th century literature. Now, for
the first time it is being brought to the stage in an adaptation by
timeless story of forbidden love, temptation and the fight for personal
freedom, it is set in the mid-Victorian period, but with 20th century
The writer is able to shift the characters and the reader back and
forth between centuries and at times Fowles himself appears and forces
us to participate with the action.
of this, at first glance its structure would appear to make it a bit
of a nightmare for adaptation and it was a while before Fowles gave
permission for it to be done. But, impressed with Healy's adaptation
of another one of his novels, Fowles worked with him to produce this
just as the writer appears in the book, he is also a character in
the play. In this production, the role is taken on by George Irving,
a familiar face from the small screen, but probably best known as
Anton Meyer in ‘Holby City’.
told us about some of the challenges this production threw up and
how hard it is to leave Meyer in the past!
would you describe the story of the French Lieutenant's Woman?
It's primarily a romance but the interesting thing about the novel
is that it's a lot more complex than that. There are many other aspects
of Victorian society in it as well and it's also about when people
fall in love - do they use their heads or their hearts?
also the story of a woman who at the beginning is an enigma, a kind
of iconic figure, and through the play reveals herself to be the three
dimensional woman that she is. In that way it's a departure from Victorian
romance because she is more like a modern woman. So lots of things
are interwoven in it.
structure of the novel is quite unusual as the writer often speaks,
how is this dealt with in the play?
Yes - it's quite difficult to adapt because it's about the person
writing the novel who talks about himself and how he sees the characters
and the adaptor Mark Healey wanted to capture that. John Fowles hadn't
given permission for this novel to be adapted then he read The Collector,
an adaptation of another one of his novels that Mark had done and
he liked it so he worked with Mark on this adaptation so we know that
it's how he would have wanted it.
play the writer and I am on stage throughout, bringing characters
on and correcting their lines. He [the writer] is in control of events
at the start and then loses it but this just indicates the role of
the writer in that characters should be given their own life to be
who they are. The writer sets them in motion but then the characters
suggest something different and it goes another way. It's about how
the writer should listen to his characters.
it's almost like it's a dramatisation of the novel writing process?
Yes to some extent, but I wouldn't want to emphasise the intellectual
element, as it's not a lecture in novel writing! But I do intervene
in events. When I first started doing the part I said "I hope he's
not going to be a bloody old nuisance interfering all the time!" but
he doesn't, he intervenes at some crucial key moments but the characters
are left to take on their own life.
it's not like anything I'd ever seen or been in before and to be part
of making it work was interesting. It's also good to be involved in
something different from what I'm normally offered.
sort of thing are you normally offered then?
Well - since I left Holby City four years ago I've wanted to do some
theatre but it had got to be something interesting and creative but
nothing grabbed me. What I've been offered on TV has been tempered
by Meyer for a few years now and I wasn't really interested in them,
I like my range to be stretched. Despite what they might say, actors
don't usually like to do things they've done before.
you been offered lots of parts like him?
Well, TV is more like a factory process in some areas these days.
They see you do something and want a bit of that in their characters
as well which makes sense really I suppose. But I wouldn't turn down
a character because he was biographically like Meyer, it's the acting
challenge that I'm looking for.
can't believe it's been four years since you did Holby - do you miss
Yes, I've now been out of it for as long as I was in it! I do miss
the people but most of the people I was in it with have gone now,
but I stayed with it for a while afterwards while people I knew were
I miss the character, I enjoyed it, he was a terrific character to
play. Even though I knew it was the right time to go I knew I would
still miss him. Meyer had a comforting certainty about him, he knew
where he was in life, what he wanted and where he was going and life's
not like that. So there are definitely aspects of the character I
you been to the Milton Keynes Theatre before?
No, I've never played the Milton Keynes Theatre before but I hear
it's quite big, people say it's a smashing space. Another aspect of
touring is that you have to adapt the show to the space you're working
in which is always interesting. It's not just a matter of shouting
louder, you have to react to the space you're in and reach the back.
you enjoy touring?
Yes but I haven't done a lot of it! The last tour I did was about
15 years ago with "A Tale of Two Cities" but I enjoyed that. We'll
be about half way through when we get to Milton Keynes and we go on
until the end of November. It's quite demanding, even if you're staying
at home which I probably will for Milton Keynes. I'll still have to
set off in the middle of the day to get there so it makes it difficult
to do anything else with your life. But I'm with a good bunch of actors,
they're a good crowd and that's important. You have to get on together.
you look for anything in particular in a town when you first arrive?
I like Wagamamas which I didn't know about until this tour! We usually
have to sort out where that is when we arrive, instant food is very
then, for all those people thinking of coming along, does it make
a difference to how you enjoy it if you've read the book or seen the
If you've read the book, you will be aware that it's not just a Victorian
love story and you can rest assured that it is a lot closer to the
novel than the film was. What we've got is something very close in
spirit to the novel even though of course it's shorter. You won't
you don't know the novel it's still definitely worth seeing, it's
a good production and it's very interesting the way the story is told.
Audiences seem to enjoy it, regardless of whether they've had contact
with it before or not.
difficult to imagine what it's like watching the show from the outside
but we talk to audiences and they seem to be getting it!