Sam Graham chats about starring in THE COUNTRY WIFE at Southwark Playhouse

Sam Graham has just finished playing Sir Jasper Fidget in The Country Wife at London’s Southwark Playhouse. His theatre credits include Our Country’s Good (Out of Joint), The Winter’s Tale (Sheffield Crucible), A Christmas Carol (Royal & Derngate), Love The Sinner (National Theatre), Gagarin Way (Theatre Royal, Bath), O Go My Man (Out of Joint, Royal Court Thetare), The Permanent Way Out (Out of Joint, National Theatre), Troilus and Cressida and A Month in the Country (RSC), Poor Superman (Royal Exchange Manchester) and Summerfolk (Chichester Festival Theatre). His television credits include The Tunnel, Silk, Spooks, Taggart, Kingdom, A Good Murder, Tipping The Velvet and Footballer’s Wives. We caught up with him over a cuppa to have a chat about the show…

The Country Wife is a colourful play that has had a varied popularity over the years due to its content. Where does it sit with modern audiences?
Exactly where it has sat since it’s first performance in 1675! There will always be a majority of an English audience who appreciate a bit of sauce with their entertainment, and a few who take as much delight in finding offence. Which side are you on Wilma?

What will contemporary audiences make of the lewd jokes and bawdy humour?
Every audience is different. One night you can have the house reacting as one and whooping in approval, and the next a smiling quiet audience revelling in the story and wonderful language. Even then there is usually one or two who just contain their guffaws.

The infamous ‘china scene’ is a brilliant example of misunderstanding and double entendre that has been a staple of 20th century British comedy. Is the play part of that ‘carry on’/ ‘Are you Being Served’/ postcard humour?
Bawdy naughtiness has been around since the ancient Greeks as a crowd pleasing art form. I think the boundaries are pushed further as a reaction to the moral climate of the day, exactly as the Restoration was a reaction to years of Cromwellian reverence. I look forward to the literary reaction when our years of austerity finally end, and know there will always be someone to step into Frankie Howard and Benny Hill’s shoes.

You play Sir Jasper Fidget – the name conjures up certain images of twitching and squirming. Has the name influenced your portrayal?
Mmmmmm. Yes of course it has, and I suppose the extent of his fidgeting comes down to my personal taste. Let me put it this way- if I was playing any other part on stage with Sir Jasper, and was aware of some constant upstaging in the form of a twitch and a squirm, I may have to have words with the culprit in the dressing room! Fortunately our wonderful designer Stewart Charlesworth gave me a hat, which has become Jasper’s security blanket.

How do you approach a character, such as Sir Jasper, with archaic and controversial views on women and marriage?
Jump in at the deep end and wallow in the wonderful politically incorrect mire! Afterwards in the bar, deny all empathy with the character.

Before becoming an actor you were studying pharmacy. What advice would you give to anyone hovering over the idea of going into the industry?
I think the first test of your aptitude for this topsy turvy life is your determination to get there in the first place. I often wonder if I should have finished my degree and filled the gaps in my acting career as a well paid locum pharmacist. I think that would have been far too comfortable and might have tempted me away to a boring easy life. I do think these days, however, having another string to your bow will never do you any harm.

With a wealth of stage, film and TV credits, where are you most at home?
The stage. Always. I became an actor because of a love of being in a play. From the rehearsal room to the first night to the long run, nothing beats the camaraderie and creativity of live theatre. Camera work is strangely lonely I find.

What is it like to be playing the intimate Southwark Playhouse?
It’s a great space to work. Very intimate. If I have a wee lottery win, I’ll fix their leaky roof.

Why do you think people should come and see The Country Wife?
If you want distracted from these austere and sabre rattling times, come on down and immerse yourself in the English language at its best. With laughter and foot tapping music and a grand dollop of sauciness, you’ll be smiling all the way home!

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
More tea Wilma?

Interview by Harrison Fuller



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