New Yorker Mary Stewart says she spent most of her early life in a small beach town on Long Island called Point Lookout. ‘It was a wonderful place to grow up,’ she enthuses. ‘It was a bit like the town in Jaws, which is incredibly fun because I am now playing a character who closely resembles the mayor in that film.’ The character Ms Stewart will be playing is Mayor Stockman in Arthur Miller’s An Enemy of the People, which is currently in rehearsal, writes Michael Holland.
The young Mary first stepped on to a stage while dancing in her early years but says she became interested in theatre whilst at high school, and, with the support of her ‘creative’ parents, studied the craft in Virginia and then New York. The older Mary now finds herself living in the Cotswolds after her actor husband joined the RSC: ‘It was a really big leap but we have escaped the horror that is Trump,’ she tells me in a sentence that reveals so much more.
Trump aside, the actor is now in a play that could be seen as a tale about all that is wrong in current US politics – where a President denies climate change and calls the press the enemy of the people – and the UK debacle that is Brexit.
Being in this play is a real joy for Mary Stewart: ‘I have always been a huge Arthur Miller fan. I studied his plays in high school and fell in love with his incredible language.’ She also feels ‘incredibly lucky to be the first woman to play this role – ‘which was written for a man’ – Adding that the new brother and sister dynamic has introduced ‘humour and pathos into the play’.
For such a serious Miller work there appears to be a lot of fun going on. When I asked about rehearsals I was told, ‘I am having the time of my life. The cast is great and I love working with Phil Wilmott(Director). He is very smart and rigorous but also a lot of fun…The process is very collaborative, and David Mildon who plays my brother is fabulous to work with.’ Well, that all sounds extremely encouraging and all the more tempting to go and see the finished work. But if you’re still not convinced, Mary wanted to end on this: ‘I think our audiences will really enjoy this play – I think they will see parallels not just to the current situation in the US but to Brexit as well. It couldn’t be more timely!’
An Enemy of the People is the first in a season of ‘Essential Classics’ that includes Can-Can(6th February – 9th March) and Othello (13th March – 16th April) and was devised by Wilmott to introduce audiences to great works of the past that reflect in the issues we face today.
The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR from 4th January – 2nd February. Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm; matinees 26th Jan & 2nd Feb 2pm. Admission: £22.50, £20. Phone: 0207 261 9876