Playing a psychological game
ACTOR Simon MacCorkindale loves nothing more than a nail-bitingly good, edge-of-the-seat thriller, so he’s absolutely buzzing with enthusiasm ahead of his latest play, Sleuth, which opens in Windsor later this month.
First written by Anthony Shaffer, the Tony Award-winning play revolves around Simon’s character, Andrew Wyke, an immensely successful mystery writer, who is fascinated by psychological games and game-playing.
He lures his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle (played by Michael Praed), to his countryside manor house, where he subjects him to a tangled web of intrigue and manipulation. But ultimately nothing turns out quite as it seems.
The 1970 play was turned into a critically successful film starring Laurence Olivier as Wyke and Michael Caine as Tindle. This was re-made last year, having been adapted by Harold Pinter and starring Michael Caine (this time in the role of Wyke) and Jude Law.
Following on from this, the play is now set for a six-month, UK-wide revival, with Windsor as the first destination.
Simon has a vast number of film and television credits to his name, including Death on the Nile, Falcon Crest and Manimal, and is known to a legion of fans for his role as consultant Harry Harper in BBC 1’s Casualty.
He says: “People like a good thriller because they want to go along with it and participate in the unravelling of this. They love nothing more than watching a great mystery solved.”
Last year, Simon decided to take a sabbatical from Casualty to tour in a revival of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest.
Since then, Simon, who lives in Exmoor with his actress wife, Susan George, says he has been “caught by the bug once more” and favours treading the boards for the moment. So when the opportunity for Sleuth came up, he more than jumped at the chance.
“Well, it’s a tour de force for two artists and the thing that really appeals to me is that it’s an enormous challenge,” reveals Simon.
“It’s a tough assignment, especially because the part of Andrew Wyke has not been played by someone of my age. So I’m having to play it with a completely different physical presence and that I think will ultimately give it a different dynamic.”
As a play revolving around just two roles, Simon acknowledges that the pressure to keep the audience entertained lies squarely upon his shoulders, as well as those of his co-star, Michael Praed, with whom he has never worked before.
“But we are getting on very well, so I’m very optimistic,” chimes the 55-year-old actor.
Michael, probably best known for his role in the 1980s cult television series, Robin of Sherwood, is quick to agree.
“Simon is an absolute delight,” he tells me. “I think we are going to work really well together.”
Like Simon, Michael seized the chance to secure a role in the Anthony Shaffer classic.
He explains: “This is a top class thriller and fiendishly cunning.
“The brilliance of Anthony Shaffer, I think, is that he exceeds the expectations of the audience and it’s a tale that would keep anyone intrigued.
“I’ve done what you would call a two-hander before, and they do differ vastly from other plays.
“But for them to really work, they have to be exquisitely plotted, as with Sleuth.”
Michael, who attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, has a number of acting credits to his name, including on such television series as The Bill, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne and the popular American soap, Dynasty, in which he played Prince Michael of Moldavia.
However, it was in the world of theatre where Michael first received his big break, alongside Tim Curry in the 1982 West End revival of The Pirates of Penzance.
Since then, the 48-year-old actor, who lives in London with his wife, Karen, and their two children, has built up extensive experience on the stage, appearing most recently in Blue On Blue, Killing Castro and Misery.
“TV opened a lot of doors for me,” says Michael. “I really do look back on those years with fondness, and I’m very gratified that Robin of Sherwood is still held in such high regard.
“But I do love the stage. It’s hard to articulate the sheer joy of doing a stage show. People think doing a show night after night must get boring in some way, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Every night is always very different. That’s what makes theatre great.”