Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Sophie Ward: The Paradise Theatre

By | Published on Sunday 7 October 2018

Up next at The Playground Theatre is a production of a play from the late James Purdy, a Twentieth Century American novelist whose name should probably be way more familiar to UK readers than it seems to be, given the influential nature of his work. ‘The Paradise Circus’ was not published until 2009, and gets its world premiere in London this month.

I wanted to find out more about the play, and the production, so I spoke to cast member (and well known star of stage and screen) Sophie Ward.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the play is about – what story does it tell?
SW: The play follows the fortunes of the Rawlings family in 1920s Ohio when the father sells his sons to the circus.

CM: What themes does it explore?
SW: From this dark beginning, we see a tale of redemption and love.

CM: It’s by a writer – James Purdy – who is possibly better known for novels rather than plays, and is possibly not that well known to British audiences. How would you describe his writing?
SW: Purdy has an extraordinary and original style. This is a big play with big emotional scenes and characters. Purdy was very much a writer’s writer, and you can see his influence on his contemporaries, such as Albee, as well as more modern writers like Lynch.

CM: What part do you play?
SW: I play a local woman who has the gift of observation and medical knowledge, and possibly foresight. She lives alone, independently and makes as an alternative to the town doctor. Some people call her a witch…

CM: You are appearing alongside your son in the show. What role does he play? Do you feel as though your relationship has made working together harder (or easier, let’s be positive!) in any way?
SW: Josh plays Gregory, one of the Rawlings’ sons. I really love working with him, seeing him doing what he loves, and having all the conversations about the day. It was something I did not expect when I tried to discourage him from being an actor! This collaboration and understanding.

CM: Can we talk a bit about you now? You’ve been acting since you were a child, haven’t you? Was there any doubt, ever, that this was what you wanted to do?
SW: I started acting at the Anna Scher Theatre in North London when I was 10, and was lucky enough to get my first television job. I have always loved my job, though I harboured ambitions to be a ballet dancer for a while! I soon grew too tall, and now I am grateful as dancing is an even harder life than acting!

CM: What have been the highlights of your acting career? What has been most fulfilling?
SW: I love the travelling and the unpredictability. Meeting all kinds of people, in all walks of life and creating characters in collaboration with other actors as well as writers and directors.

CM: You’ve worked both on screen and on stage over the years. Where are you happiest? Or are they just different?
SW: Yes, they are very different technically, but you are still using your imagination to build characters and tell stories. On stage, you get to tell the whole story, and then it disappears every night. On film, you tell little bits of the story that are pieced together by many other creative people and the end result can last for a long time.

CM: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions for the future?
SW: It would be a privilege to carry on telling stories, as an actor, and also as a writer.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SW: My first novel, ‘Love and Other Thought Experiments’, is coming out in February 2020, so I am working on the final edits of that. And I am lucky enough to be married to a playwright, Rena Brannan, and she has written a new play that we are developing at the Arcola.


The Paradise Circus is on at The Playground Theatre from 8 Oct to 3 Nov. For all the details, see the venue website here.


Photo: Scott Rylander