The first moment during our phone interview when producer Nicola Seed gets truly excited is when I ask her to name her favourite scene in Emlyn Williams’ play Accolade, which is now transferring to St James Theatre following an acclaimed revival at the Finborough in 2011, directed by Blanche McIntyre. The second is when I ask Seed about the different ways in which a director and a producer might respond to a play, Nicola summarises this with an anguished cry: ‘There are how many people in this play, now?’ Each reaction is equally passionate and suggests a producer who is as creatively engaged as she is practically minded.
Accolade premiered in London in 1950 but since then it had languished, neglected and overlooked, for over fifty years. It was only when Seed and McIntrye came across a mention of the play in Michael Billington’s book State of a Nation that the wheels for this successful revival were set in motion.
Despite her talk of ‘lost gems’ one also detects a savviness behind Seed’s decision to produce Accolade. While it’s true that Williams is often referred to as the ‘Welsh Noël Coward’ one can’t help thinking that it must have been damn handy to have the approval of Michael Billington all but guaranteed.
We talk a lot about the ‘enduring relevance’ of the play and, hand on heart, it doesn’t feel like a cliché. Accolade really does resonate particularly strongly at the moment. It is a play about imperfect public figures, their not so private, private lives and the uncertain and morally blurred ground – so often invaded by both the press and public – that occupies the space between the private and public domain.
As Seed – who received a Stage One Bursary for New Producers for the Finborough production and has since set up her own production company – puts it: ‘The play is about the repercussions of being high profile and what happens when your private life enters the public sphere. It is about dual personalities and inhabiting different worlds and the ramifications of your actions if you lead a double life.’ The public figure in question is writer Will Trenting – a man who writes deliciously debauch novels and is set to receive a Knighthood for his efforts. The only snag is that Trenting’s seedy novels are largely drawn from Trenting’s somewhat seedy ‘second’ life, a life of drinking and gambling and pretty young ladies. The public glare that comes with the Knighthood casts an unwelcome spotlight on Trentings’s shadowy and potentially controversial behaviour.
When the play opened Williams himself played the role of Trenting. Williams was a closet bisexual and, although the play doesn’t directly address the question of homosexuality (‘the censors would never have allowed it’), it’s very much bubbling below the surface – what a defiant and challenging central performance from Williams that must have been! These days the subject matter is less controversial, but the public’s desire for the dirt behind the gloss of celebrity life remains strong. ‘We all say that celebrities’ privacy should be respected,’ says Seed, ‘however, we still want to know everything. Those two demands do not sit easily together.’
And her favourite scene in the play? ‘There is a beautiful scene with the father (Trenting) and his son. It is just a father talking to his son and it is very frank and brutal and honest. It is a heart-breaking moment and I think reflects the heart of this show – it is about someone who thought he could live in two different worlds until he sees the hurt and devastation and the threat that decision is bring on his delicate family unit.’
Despite the piquancy of Accolade, it has taken over three years to get this transfer off the ground. That might seem like an awfully long time, but for Seed, it is fairly standard: it’s vital to make sure the project viable. ‘I first read Accolade with Blanche almost five years ago; people don’t see all the work that goes on behind the scenes that is involved in getting the show on. The work doesn’t just start the day you hit the rehearsal room – that is the end of the journey – our job is getting everything to that point. It’s a myth that producing is glamorous. It’s not. I think it is one of those things that you do because you have so much love for a project. It is a very long process and you have to persevere.’ Seed finishes, with just a hint of defiance: ‘There is a false perception that producers are just the money people. We’re not. We just have the most passion.’
Accolade is at the St James Theatre, London, until 13th December 2014.