Two years ago Oyelowo set up Inservice Productions with his wife, Jessica, and three actor friends in Brighton. After a successful youth-theatre production and a short film, Graham and Alice, which will screen on BBC4 next year, they are preparing for their first professional play.
Oyelowo has chosen The White Devil for the big launch. An RSC veteran, he feels at home with the classics. "Brighton is so infested with very cutting-edge, Royal-Court-type drama happening in basements all over the place. We wanted to introduce a bit of classical theatre."
He has updated Webster's Jacobean tragedy for the 21st-century, taking inspiration from its military, aristocratic world. "It looks at a very regimented, formalised world which supposedly is full of honour but has an underbelly of lust, ambition and all things ugly."
Flaminio and Marcello have become Flaminia and Marcella, in response to his actress friends' complaints that "all the best parts in classical theatre go to men". Instead of two brothers and a sister, there are now three sisters, which opens up an entire echo-chamber of theatrical resonances, as well as gender issues. "When I see a woman in military uniform, I think, 'What happened? Did your dad want boys?'" says Oyelowo.
Webster's flowery, proverbial language has also been checked in a bid for narrative clarity and modern appeal. "Webster may well be spinning furiously in his grave at what we're doing with the play, but thankfully he's no longer around to beat me with a stick."
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