Nicole Ansari stars alongside Adam Sina as multi-award-winning Brian Cox directs the UK première of Sinners – The English Professor by Joshua Sobol.
The production opens at The Playground Theatre on 26 February, with previews from 25 February and runs until 14 March.
You’re starring in Sinners at The Playground Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
Sinners is a heart wrenching love story about Layla, an English professor in a middle eastern country who is awaiting to be stoned to death for adultery with her student, written by the Israeli writer Joshua Sobol. Nur, the student, played by Adam Sina, is collecting the stones for her execution and a dialogue about their love affair commences that questions the patriarchal societies, the suppression of women and sexuality and how it creates toxic masculinity. This sounds sinister but the play is actually quite funny sometimes. The practice of Lapidation is still practiced in 18 countries in the world. When Joshua sent me the play, I knew that I wanted to tell this story and be a voice for the voiceless. I am also producing it and am blessed to work with a young visionary co-producer named Lawryn LaCroix, without whom this production would not have happened.
What do you like most and least about your character?
Layla is a very unconventional character. She is daring to be free and sexually fulfilled in a country where women have no rights. She becomes a Professor and had to fight her much older husband to get an education. She believes in intellectual and physical freedom and equality in a place where she stands out like a sore thumb. What do I not like? The only thing I don’t like is that she lets herself get into this vulnerable situation in the first place but then there wouldn’t be a story to tell if she didn’t.
It’s being directed by Brian Cox, what are you most looking forward to about working with him?
Brian (who I happen to be married to for 20 years this year!) is a fantastic director. We did this play before in Boston and Vermont produced by the Mirror Theater and he is an absolute joy to work with. He knows exactly what to say to you as an actor and how to motivate action (or in my case inaction, since I am buried up to my waist – very reminiscent of Beckett’s Happy Days). He is very precise and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to language and vision. I love that about him. We have worked together as actors several times before on film and here in the West End and on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s Rock N’Roll and love acting together. That he is such a great director was a surprise to me.
What has impressed you most about Joshua Sobol’s writing?
Joshua stands up fiercely for justice and freedom and doesn’t shy away from crass language and subjects. He is a controversial writer because he dares to stand up for Palestinians (a stance that cost him his position as artistic director at the Haifa National Theatre). He writes very strong female characters, often blatantly sexually free characters. I played Alma Mahler in Vienna in his play “Alma”; a play about the “ Muse of the four Arts”- as Alma was known, because she not only married Gustav Mahler, the composer and conductor but also Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus Architect and Franz Werfel, the writer of “the hundred days of Musa Dag”, the seminal novel on the Armenian Genocide and “the song of Bernadette “; a big Hollywood movie at the time. Besides her husbands she had numerous affairs and her first kiss came from the Secession painter Gustav Klimt. His plays always have a provocative element, an Intellectual discourse and one on the flesh and the damage that suppression of sexuality can create in us.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you and co-star Adam Sina in this production?
Right now, our biggest challenge is learning the lines, lol! I have done it before but Joshua has done some rewrites and I had to unlearn the way I learned it and have to re- learn the text anew. My challenge is being stuck in a pit for an hour and then going into a complicated dance sequence, and Adam has to pile a lot of stones! In rehearsals he has been working with toilet rolls as stones and I can’t wait for the look on his face when it is real stones that he will be working with. Joke aside, the play is emotionally and Intellectually challenging and there is not a moment either of us get a respite for the hour and a half. But hey- that’s also the joy for me as an actor. To work with material and a director who set the bar really high.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Sinners?
Don’t be scared to come and see a play about Lapidation! It’s not what you think it is. It is an intense journey into male- female relationship on a much more universal level than that. It’s a rom-com thriller with an intellectual penmanship.
Main Image: Nicole Ansari (Layla) and Adam Sina (Nur) © Cordula Treml
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