Thursday, 21 July 2016

INTERVIEW Pippa Nixon on Sunset at the Villa Thalia

POLITICS, military coups, democracy, greed, and what it is to belong and have a home are just some of the themes in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s startling and absorbing new play, Sunset at the Villa Thalia.
Set on a Greek island, first in the 60s and then nine years later in the 70s, it tells how the lives of two couples collide and the devastating consequences of their meeting.
It is currently in rep at the National’s Dorfman theatre and boasts a stellar cast including Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern and The Hollow Crown’s Ben Miles.
It also stars, Pippa Nixon, known to theatre fans for her impressive CV which has included in the last three years alone, playing such meaty roles as the Bastard in King John, Titania, Ophelia and Rosalind at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and Ariel in The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
She has also graced our TV screens with parts in Grantchester, Cuffs and Holby City and in the film Containment.
Pippa is now making her National Theatre debut as Charlotte in this production and tells me “it’s a joy” to be part of.
We chat as she’s rushing from her West Norwood home to the theatre for the start of an intense run of eight shows a week for the next five weeks - something Pippa cheerfully admits is “full on”.
“I am a huge fan of Alexi Kaye Campbell,” she tells me enthusiastically. “He’s a fantastic writer and having seen many of his plays I always come away feeling moved by his characters, stories and topics. 
“So to get a part like this, to be directed at the National and work with such an amazing group of people, I was like, give me the script now!
“I just thought the characters were so brilliantly written and it was such a well formed play that it was a no brainer.”
The story concerns young British couple Charlotte and Theo who have left their Camberwell home to come to one of the Greek islands on holiday. It is a chance for Theo, a playwright, to gain inspiration for his work not to mention the peace and quiet to think.
Into their lives come an American couple, Harvey and June full of charisma and charm. And over one fateful evening, Harvey - who has connections with the American government - persuades the young couple to buy the house they are renting from its Greek owners. 
Initially, given the house is going for a song, Charlotte has doubts as she is concerned about ripping the Greek family off. However, Harvey and June seduce them into the idea. But just as they buy the house, a military coup takes place on the Greek mainland.
The second act takes place nine years later. Charlotte and Theo now have two children and are happily still living in the house, and are still in touch with Harvey and June.
However when the American couple pay them a visit, they realise the devastating consequences of their decision to buy the house.
“I was quite unnerved by the play when I first read it,” says Pippa. “You think you know where it’s going but it’s quite complex because there are twists and turns which keep the audience guessing.
“Charlotte and Harvey have an instant attraction, although there is never any real suggestion they have an affair, but they definitely have a charged relationship. They are both passionate believers in politics, what makes the world evolve and what is morally right and what’s morally wrong.
“They come from very different places - Harvey comes from a much more right wing frame of mind - and throughout the course of the play they argue and debate over issues such as democracy, both making valid points.
“I think what Alexi wanted to explore was that there is no good or bad character and you may find yourself siding with one and then they do something and you fall on the side of someone else. It’s brilliant.”
For Pippa, who had wanted to be an actress ever since she was 12 years old, the debates about greed, poverty, wealth and cultural clashes, have been fascinating, especially in the last few months with the current political backdrop of the EU referendum.
“It’s very exciting to bring this play to audiences now, at this time in our history,” she says. “Even though it’s a period piece, it feels current. 
“The play has a back drop of political turmoil and clearly with what has happened in the last few weeks in this country there are echoes here.
“And with the play touching on other issues such as a housing crisis and democracy it all feels so relatable - and so it will resonate very much with audiences.
“For me what’s been so interesting is that I have played some hugely complex characters in my career but never anyone like Charlotte - never anyone close to my age or with such a political view. Charlotte is very passionate about what she believes in.”
I suggest that this sounds like Pippa herself. For during the course of our conversation she is warm, chatty, friendly, engaging and instantly likeable - and has a passionate conviction not only about her craft and career but also about her politics.
“I think Charlotte and I are quite similar in many ways,” she agrees. “Charlotte takes her stance with marches and petitions although her voice can be heard in situations where she can challenge people one on one. I can channel some of my thoughts and beliefs through her in this play.
“I’ve lived in South London for about 15 years and love it and feel very much part of the community.  Most of the people where I live were in the Remain camp, including myself, and so the Brexit result was a real shock. 
“A lot of people feel they have been told untruths, that there was a lot of propaganda and that they now feel powerless.
“Politically I have never known anything like this and it will be very interesting to see how audiences react now, after the result. 
“So to be part of a play like this that feels so current and with all the conversations people are having right now, it’s very special.”

Sunset at the Villa Thalia is on at the National Theatre until Thursday, August 4. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.

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