How was it for you?

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The Independent Culture
DAVID SUCHET is taking his socks off after his performance in Oleanna, David Mamet's play of sexual polemics at the Duke of York's in London. He is slightly out of breath. 'Drink?' He pours me a glass of white wine. Behind him, a toupee sits on a head block. 'Because I wear a wig for the show,' he says, 'some people in the audience aren't quite sure if it's me. Particularly if they know me from Poirot. where I appear as a bald man who weighs about 15 stone. I can hear people whispering to one another in the front row, asking if it's really me.

'Tonight was a very tense show. I start the show with a very long telephone call, which this evening got a lot of relaxed laughter. There was a lot of warmth out there, so, after the interval, I decided not to foster that too much. There is a side to my character which is hard and not very likeable - I was aware I might have got the audience too much on my side too early. So I went cold on them a little earlier than normal.'

Suchet's character spends much of the play speaking down the phone. He uses language that mimicks real-life conversation, full of stops, starts and half-finished phrases. 'The phone calls]' he says. 'Don't speak to me about them. It took me three weeks to learn the first phone call, eight hours a day. This is the only play in all my married life in which my wife stopped going through my lines with me. It got too much. I just had to go up there in my room and sit there for hours and hours and hours. It drove me crazy. I'm meeting Mamet next week and I'm going to ask him if his actors in the New York production had the same problem.'

Even though the house was full, and the applause enthusiastic, Suchet looks as if he has had a hard time. 'Mamet defies you. It doesn't help if you get yourself into the character. You cannot be Method. I've had to put all that aside and, for each line, just think about what I'm saying and concentrate on that moment.'

'By the end, I was aware of growing tension in the house. There was warm applause, but it took a long time coming. There is so much hate going on on stage; it was hard for the audience to applaud. And we cut the curtain call down to just two calls. I don't think the audience wanted to hang around for too long. It's not that sort of show.' He pours out a glass of wine. 'In this dressing-room I have a bottle of fairly expensive red wine. I will only open it if I really feel the evening has gone very well.' Tonight, he's drinking white.

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