Interview: Richard Sutton, “I’ve missed it so much…there’s nothing quite like it”

Richard Sutton will be a familiar face to many given his extensive acting career. On television he’s appeared in the The TerrorDunkirk, Line of Duty, and The Crown, whilst on stage he’s helped to terrify many (including this interviewer), while appearing in Andy Nyman’s hugely popular Ghost Stories.

Ahead of his return to the stage at the Orange Tree Theatre in Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act, Athol Fugard’s play about forbidden love in apartheid South Africa, we spoke to Richard about getting back on stage after the pandemic, playing Fugard’s Detective du Perez, and making people 1,000 people a night scream…

Richard Sutton in rehearsals for STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT by Athol Fugard. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Ten Questions with Richard Sutton

How does it feel to be back onstage after the prolonged closure of theatres due to the pandemic?

It feels incredible. Truly! I’ve missed it so much both as an actor and as a punter. There’s nothing quite like it. I was beginning to feel like it was never going to come back, and I’ve already booked to see so much in the autumn.

Do you approach theatre differently after such a long break?

There are certain protocols that have been put in place for our safety now such as temperature taking, mask wearing and testing. I also auditioned via Zoom which was a first for me, but the rehearsal process has been pretty standard and you slowly get back into the swing of things!

How relevant does Athol Fugard’s Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act feel almost 50 years after it was written?

Incredibly so. I think it’s also a reminder that this was happening not that long ago! As barbaric as the apartheid regime was, it happened within my lifetime and is still resonating now not only in South Africa but all over the world. Fugard’s voice still sounds so loud and clear, and the themes still seem so fresh.

What attracted you to the role of Detective Sergeant du Preez?

It’s a funny thing- I often hear actors say how they need to love the character before they can play them. But du Preez is literally the mirror opposite to me in terms of his views and beliefs, so it has been very hard to ‘love’ that side of him, but I do relish the challenge. The learning of the South African accent has been an enjoyable process too.

Richard Sutton alongside Shaq Taylor, Diane Page, Scarlett Brookes and Charli Unwin in rehearsals for STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT. Photo by Helen Maybanks

And what has most surprised you about role?

Du Preez is a minor role within the piece, but he brings with him a whole lot of trouble. There’s so much more to him that what’s on the page so it’s been an utter joy to plough into those hidden depths.

How has it been working with Diane Page, Scarlett Brookes and Shaq Taylor?

An absolute JOY! You heard it here first, Diane is going to be one of the great directors of the British theatre. Her collaborative approach throughout the process and incredible energy is so wonderful to see. I’ve worked with her before and so I’ve known for a while how special she is. As for Shaq and Scarlett, I can’t wait for the world to see their performances. I sometimes find myself watching them when I’m supposed to be acting opposite them! Scarlett makes the bravest of choices and Shaq oozes presence. I feel very lucky being in that rehearsal room with them.

You’ve acted extensively on television, does your approach differ when acting on stage?

The technique used is slightly different. On stage one gets to run the whole arch of the character’s story in sequence, which is not the case when filming as it’s all out of narrative. But the main themes of telling the story, serving the script and listening are the same in both disciplines. I tend to work outside in on stage too (the physical side of the character and his look) rather than inside out on screen (the more cerebral side).

Richard Sutton in rehearsals for STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT. Photo by Helen Maybanks

You appeared in Ghost Stories in the West End last year – how did it feel being part of such a hit show?

I don’t think I’ve been as happy as I was making 1000 people a night scream in fear. Does that make me a psychopath? We played for three months in Hammersmith, three months in the West End and then a ten-week tour – which was sadly cut short due to Covid. I played the role over 400 times and it was an absolute pleasure to be part of such a juicy show.

Is there a particular theatrical role that you have been waiting for?

For one reason or another my career has taken a route via TV rather than the stage. So, I’m really happy that I’ve been given the chance to tread the boards a little more. I’d love to do some Shakespeare or maybe a piece of new writing.

Finally, how would you describe Statements…. to someone considering buying a ticket for the show

The play is a compelling and deeply moving love story filled with loss, lust, grief and hope. Get a ticket before it sells out!

Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act
plays at the Orange Tree Theatre from 28 August until 2 October. Tickets are available now.