A visit to London isn’t complete without an excursion to one of the boroughs outside of Central London. One of those must-see areas is Richmond in south-west London. Near Twickenham Road and just off Clarence Street, you’ll find the Orange Tree Theatre actors and creative hard at work with their return to in-person productions.
Following a successful 2019 run, Terence Rattigan’s acclaimed comedy, While the Sun Shines, returns to Orange Tree (OT) with previews on November 20. After opening on November 24, the play will continue in full swing through January 8, 2022. If you can’t visit the OT, there are livestream and on demand options available.
Bobby—also known as Earl of Harpendon (Philip Labey)—offers a room to Joe (Conor Glean), an American soldier he just met the evening before. When Bobby’s fianceé, Lady Elizabeth (Rachel Collingwood) arrives, Joe mistakes her for Mabel Crum (Sophie Khan Levy), Bobby’s ex-girlfriend. The situation becomes more complicated as a Free French lieutenant (Jordan Mifsúd) and Bobby’s future father-in-law (Michael Lumsden) arrive later.
Sophie Khan Levy met with me in Zoom to share the latest about this hilarious production and her role as Mabel. Some of her theatre credits include Measure for Measure, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC), Hanna (Arcola Theatre/Papatango) and Fracked (Chichester Festival Theatre). She also appeared on television in Ride.
What did you find valuable about doing productions with the RSC?
One of my first jobs at the RSC. I learned so much. The cast was full of fantastic actors. I was understudying at the time, which meant I was allowed to be in a lot of the rehearsals. Just watching, not only the acting but also the communication between the actors and the director, was a brilliant learning experience.
What piece of advice would you offer to actors coming after you?
Don’t take it personally and just keep going would be my advice. Know that it’s not easy, but it’s not personal. Keep going.
Is this your first in-person show since theatres began reopening?
It will be. I’ve done one reading on stage [before], but this is the first proper performance since lockdown.
For people who might not be familiar with Terence Rattigan’s work, what would you say is unique about his style as a playwright?
I really love how there’s a lot going on with the characters, but it’s still light, enjoyable, and fun. At the same time, it’s dealing with people who have big emotions and full lives. To me, it feels like the perfect show to come back with after lockdown, when we’re all wanting a bit of comfort and joy. That’s what Rattigan does for me.
Tell us a bit more about Mabel, your character. Do you share any qualities with her?
I love Mabel. I do think I share a lot of qualities with her. I say that, but she’s described as a trollop and calls herself one, so don’t get those confused. [Laughs] I think she’s a really modern woman. When I first read the play, it felt so modern to me with this story of a woman who kind of behaves like one of the lads, but of course, she’s a woman. Watching her towards the end of the play, she comes out so strong. I’d love to be as strong as Mabel Crum.
If the characters were real people, which one would you like to take out for a cup of tea?
I’d take Mabel, but not for tea. I’d take her out for gin. Actually, I’d want to have a tea with Elizabeth. I love when she has a line about “My desire to experiment.” She’s very sweet, but she also has a bit of wanting to do things and see the world. I’d like some time with her.
A major element of this comedy is about relationships and these encounters people have. What smart observations do you think the play makes on this topic?
It’s this smart idea of who is the person and if there is a person. What it shows to me about relationships is that in both, the characters needed to explore some other side. That’s why to me it felt very modern, with the idea that it’s not just the person I’ve been betrothed to for years. I’ve got to test them out. It’s a complex thing that you could be with a few people and then who you choose to be with.
We haven’t had a major revival in decades of While the Sun Shines until 2019. What do you think audiences appreciate about this production?
I wasn’t in it the last time, but from being in the rehearsal it’s comforting. The characters and their predicaments really spark joy. I enjoy watching them come unstuck and piecing themselves back together slowly. It’s an enjoyable process.
What are your hopes as you transition back to the stage and start previews on November 20?
I don’t know if I’m feeling anxious about my body dealing with the amount of adrenaline that will be coming back. I don’t think that my body has been pumped full of that show adrenaline in a very long time, with everything being on a screen or Zoom until now. I’m really looking forward to having a long run of something with an audience again where it changes and shifts. That’s the difference with filming where you just go in and do it. In the theatre, the audience is generally teaching you something every time about how to do it, what works, and what doesn’t work. I’m excited about the audience and being in the room with them.