Wilson has magic between stage and screen

Richard Wilson in rehearsals for The Pride at the Crucfble Studio
Richard Wilson in rehearsals for The Pride at the Crucfble Studio
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IN A couple of weeks Richard Wilson will be off to don the wig and robes of the magician Gaius and join filming a fourth series of Merlin, the BBC primetime Arthurian fantasy adventure.

“It’s a good arrangement, it fits around my directing work,” says the Sheffield Theatres associate director who is currently rehearsing The Pride which starts previewing in the Crucible Studio next week.

Wilson is also associate director of the Royal Court and The Pride by Alexi Kaye Campbell is the second play premiered in the London theatre which he has re-staged in Sheffield after That Face last year.

“It was nothing more than a combination of the fact that I want to direct new plays and Daniel (Evans, artistic director) likes putting on regional premieres,” he explains. “Then I thought that there was a great part for him in it.”

Evans makes his Crucible debut as Oliver whose experience of being a gay man in 1958 is contrasted with his counterpart in 2008.

“You need to do new plays at the right time and I think this is it,” says Wilson. “It is Alexei’s first produced play and he has since seen it put on in New York and in Germany and in Greece (the country of his birth) and now it is back in Britain. It’s a weighty play.”

It involves parallel narratives 50 years apart involving a love triangle between two gay men and a woman, but is it more than a gay play?

“As director you wouldn’t expect me to say anything but yes,” laughs Wilson. “I see it as a love story and as a play about being true to one’s self and finding the courage to do so. It’s a play about truth. There’s a menage a trois with a woman on the scene of both affairs. In the first she is in the middle of it and in the second she manipulates a reconciliation.”

Wilson remembers those days back in the Fifties. “I moved down to London in 1959 (to find work as a research scientist). The Lord Chamberlain would not have allowed you to have a gay rape scene which is what we have been rehearsing this morning. One has seen a huge change in those 50 years but there is still a way to go. Stonewall sent out an email saying that the Church of Scotland were moving towards a discussion on accepting ministers of the church who were gay. Moving towards a discussion, that sounds a long way off.”

On the other hand has all the change been for the good? “One of the characters in the 2000 bit of the play is promiscuous. Has gay liberation led to more promiscuous gay sexuality?,” he ponders. “It’s extraordinary the number of issues it raises about love and standing by your convictions.”

Wilson is due back in Sheffield in September to direct another play at the Crucible, Lungs, part of The Roundabout Season in collaboration, Paines Plough.

In between is his stint on Merlin – he is due on set only a couple of days after press night for The Pride and is quite looking forward to it.

“It’s quite good fun but it’s also hard work, there’s no hanging about which there can sometimes be on film sets,” he says.

Filming takes place in Wales and in France – at Chateau de Pierrefonds in rural Picardy which sounds a pretty decent place to while away the summer. Wilson is not so convinced. “The series is shown all around the world and has become a mecca for tourists. There are crowds outside the gates as you pass through. Because it’s rural the hotels aren’t luxurious,” he adds, and then brightens: “But Paris is only an hour away where there are good hotels and restaurants.”

Sounds quite magical.

The Pride has a public dress rehearsal next Thursday (June 23) in the Crucible Studio where it runs to July 16.