Samantha Spiro's big stage challenge

Nine years ago, Samantha Spiro played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in Chichester's Minerva Theatre. She reckons her biggest challenge since has been the play which now brings her back to Chichester.

Samantha Spiro
Samantha Spiro

The House They Grew Up In, a new piece by Deborah Bruce, directed by Jeremy Herrin, runs until August 5, again in the Minerva.

“Funny Girl was me stepping into Barbra Streisand’s shoes and singing 12 solo numbers when I didn’t consider myself a musical-theatre actress. And now this play is going to be an equal challenge… a very very different challenge. It is a really big learn, a really difficult learn. The woman just doesn’t stop talking.”

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The play is set in the present day in a residential street in south-east London. The house where reclusive siblings Peppy and Daniel were born is now stuffed full of everything they have ever owned. This hoard, their eccentric appearance and rampant garden hedge set them conspicuously apart from others on their road. When young Ben visits from next door he is simply looking for friendship; but what happens next challenges everyone’s idea of neighbourliness…

“It’s a new play, and in my humble opinion, Deborah has written a brilliant play. As soon as I started reading it, I was hooked. I got to page two and I just wanted to read on.

“It is about this reclusive brother and sister who live on the edge of society. They are co-dependent, and really the outside world is a very separate place for them. What happens during the rest of the play is that the outside world comes barging in metaphorically. It is about how they cope with that… or don’t cope. They are both struggling with mental illnesses.

“I am playing the sister. The sister is really the coper in this relationship except she is dealing with extreme anxiety and autism and she is dealing with mental-health issues that have caused depression in the past that have caused her to want to try to attempt to take her own life. She finds it very difficult coping with anybody outside of all this. She is extremely anxious, and she is not necessarily doing things in the right way, but she knows she has to keep her and her brother going. It is on her that their survival depends.

“Everything we need is in the script, but we have had experts coming in and saying that the characters are completely believable. We have had professionals giving us a diagnosis and talking about what the treatment would be and how they would help. But in terms of what Deborah has given us, it is rich and believable.

“Deborah has been around in rehearsals, but she is going to leave us to it for the next week or two. At some point, it is always healthy to have the writer break away. When you are doing a new play, it is great to have the author around to pick their brains and ask them about their intentions even if sometimes they will tell you that even they don’t know.”

That’s all part of the challenge of performing a play for the first time: “It is a great challenge because you have got nothing you can compare it to. You are inventing it, and you are giving the audience a new experience, but it needs to be clear – and it needs to be believable. And you want to give them something that they can think about at the end of the evening. I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable experience. It is going to be a difficult experience watching this. Sometimes you can watch something, like Half A Sixpence last year, and it is pure joy. This play will leave you with lots of questions…”

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