David Hare’s powerful play spans three decades in post-war England as ideals collapse and values collide. The first scene is in 1962 and then it flashes back to 1943 and then forward through the Forties and Fifties.
Hattie Morahan plays the central character of Susan Traherne who as a secret agent behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France experienced a life of danger, intrigue and exhilaration but after the war a string of dead-end jobs and destructive relationships drives her to the very brink of madness.
As the play covers periods in her life from 18 to 37, it is probably necessary to have the wall chart to help her keep her bearings.
The play was written in 1978, the year the actor was born, so that at times she is playing older than her own age.
“There are other times when she is very young and you can sometimes forget that,” she says. “You find yourself thinking, why are they doing that?, and then you think, well, because they are 18 or 24.”
It’s not so much a matter of depicting a particular age, however, as portraying stages in her life. “You have got to show how her nature is changing and her values are shifting,” says Morahan.
“She had an extraordinary start to her life when we see her dropped into France. It was the formative experience of her life and had a huge impact emotionally. It was quite traumatic and so thrilling and so intense.
“The Suez Crisis left her disillusioned with politics and feeling unable to find a place in the world.
“I imagine there were a lot of accomplished women who felt that.they had all these extra demands and were left feeling wasted. Susan is impatient and can’t find her way.”
Morahan sees the play as being “about hope for the future – both her own and the future of the world.”
When it is mentioned that Susan Traherne is a character that audiences have found difficult to warm to, the actress exchanges a grin with director Thea Sharrack.
“David has talked about how sympathetic she is and has written an addendum to the script addressing the issue.
“He asks the actors to try and present things as closely as possible to how they are written. He wants the actors to speak for themselves and allow the audience to make up their minds.
“It’s not useful if you are working on a character to think how could she do that?, I could never do that, she is different from me,” continues Morahan.
“There are things she does that are unsympathetic but there is something thrilling and admirable in the rules she breaks and how she carves her own way in a world and society which is very entrenched and repressive.
“I find her very exciting because she does things I could never do.”
It was the same earlier this year when Morahan was in a revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing at the Old Vic. “My character was very different to me.,” she says. “She was emotionally volatile and that’s not me.”
Hattie Morahan has appeared in many highprofile stage productions at the National, RSC and the Donmar and has also made her mark on screen most notably as Elinor in BBC costume drama Sense and Sensibility and as scatty single mum Jane in sitcom Outnumbered.
As the daughter of TV and film director Christopher Morahan and actress Anna Carteret, she has grown up in the business. “It was part of the scenery, it was what was always being talked about around the dinner table,” she says.
“Going to the theatre was something that just seemed natural. Unless you have a huge aversion it becomes part of your life. It’s a natural role to take and you are at home in that world.
“I do remember for a number of years of acting feeling a sense of having to prove myself but that may go with a certain nature.
“Whatever, it’s something I love and it’s my passion.”
Plenty begins previewing at the Crucible Studio from next Thursday, February 3.