No one predicted the huge success of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre last year.
Now, as it returns to Chichester prior to a London transfer, William Gaunt, who plays Old Dogsborough, is still insisting that you can take nothing for granted.
“It’s rather like a football team that is three-nil up at the end of the first leg,” William says. “The best managers will tell you that that doesn’t at all mean that you are going to win the tie.
“You have got to keep working and make sure that you don’t get complacent. It’s a funny old business, and the difference between London audiences and Chichester audiences is quite marked.
“The audiences in London are much more disparate.
“And it can work either way. You can have a play that you think is going to do terribly well, and it just doesn’t.”
But last year’s success – particularly with almost all the cast returning this year – gives some kind of indication.
William sees as essential the chemistry between the director – in this case Jonathan Church – and the leading actor, in this case Henry Goodman.
“The two of them have been a really marvellous combination. Henry is terribly inventive and is always throwing out ideas, which can be a bit trying for some directors. But Jonathan is tremendous. He says, ‘That’s great. Let’s try it’, and we try it and if it doesn’t work, you just let it go and Henry will reject it.
“A lot of directors want to be totally in charge of what is going to be done in the production and what isn’t going to be done, but Jonathan has got a very good knack of letting everyone try things. You can’t embarrass yourself in rehearsals. You have got to have the freedom to try things.
“But also, with this, the strength of the production was that it flows so well. Everything has got to feel right, and it is rather like a movie with a lot of short scenes. You have got to be able to keep moving without a lot of stage machinery.”
The play offers a sharp and thrilling parable of the rise of Hitler shot through with razor-sharp wit, set in Chicago in the 1930s, the Great Depression - a time of unemployment, fear and corruption, and the perfect time for a small-fry crime boss and his henchmen to make it big, to seize a greater power, an absolute power.
Arturo Ui and his mob of gangsters run protection rackets for both workers and businesses. Soon Ui’s menacing shadow looms large, from the markets, to the docks and across the city itself.
“We have had to bring a couple of new people in, and we have had to work them into the production, but the problem with coming back to something that you have done before is that you have got to rediscover why you did it. We had to discover something in those scenes, but we have not reproduced things exactly. Quite a lot of new stuff has evolved.
“My character has slightly changed particularly in quite a long scene I have with Henry. In last year’s production, my character caved in quite early on when Henry revealed to me that he knows about the shady deals that I had done. But now I carry it right through and try to bluff it out and try to remain strong. In a way that came from me, but also from the discussions we have had about the characters.”
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre until September 14.