Actress Ruth Wilson in her marathon 24-hour performance in The Second Woman

It sounds like one of those dreams where you wake up in a heartbeat. When Ruth Wilson takes the stage at London’s Young Vic theater next week, she has no idea who her co-stars will be. She has to repeat the same scene 100 times in 24 hours.

This spooky Groundhog Day-like scene was actually the European premiere of a 2017 Australian show that was a hit everywhere it played. In The second girl, written by Nat Randall and Anna Breckon, a couple — Marty and Virginia — play and replay a critical point in their relationship 100 times. The actress is a constant, but each time a different stranger plays Marty. Visitors, meanwhile, can stay for the duration or pop in a couple of times over and over again.

Wilson says the prospect is both exciting and terrifying. „How do you prepare for that?” she asks rhetorically with a wide smile. „You can’t. For me it’s really scary, but really liberating.

We are sitting in a room at the Young Vic. Wilson is funny and outspoken; He answers questions with a combination of sharp wit and honesty that makes him an engaging performer. Danger appears to be a magnet. „If someone offers you something and you go, 'Wow, that’s crazy, unique, extraordinary, I can’t do anything like this again,’ you take it.”

Ruth Wilson 'His Dark Materials’ (2019) © Alamy

Most people know her as Alice Morgan, the psychotic scientist in the TV series LutherOr as the villainous Mrs. Coulter His Dark MaterialsHe recently starred in Kate True things, an ex-con is a bored office clerk who rushes headlong into a reckless affair. His next screen project, The girl on the wallMade by her production company Lady Lazarus, it’s a BBC thriller set in one of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene Laundries.

Wilson also excels on stage, excelling in complex characters who are on edge and often driven by the need to be free. „They can have a kind of raging energy that feels restrained,” she says. He was nominated for a Tony Award for Nick Payne’s Multiverse Dazzler Constellations Played Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler on Broadway and at the National Theater – „My favorite part: she’s still a mystery to me”.

Last year she played a ruined woman in Jean Cocteau human voice In the West End: A Study Enclosed in a Glass Box in Solitude. It was very intense – „I felt like I was talking to myself for an hour” – but The second girl is in another position. Physical preparation comes somewhere between marathon training and a long-haul flight.

„Every two hours I have a 15-minute break,” explains Wilson. “So toilet breaks, teeth, fresh air, something to eat. I checked with a nutritionist and he said, 'You need to eat little, often, and early – before you get hungry.’ I also keep an emergency kit of sugar and caffeine for the 2am-6am slot.

A man and a woman dance on stage under purple balloons

Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Constellations’ at the Friedman Theater in New York in 2014 © New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Randall’s practical advice, having performed the piece several times, was of little help. „She said, 'You want Red Bull for the last six hours.’ I haven’t had a Red Bull in 20 years – six hours, I’ll never go back!”

Scene inspired by John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening night, is scripted, but each iteration hinges entirely on the stranger taking to the stage. Repetition is important, allowing the audience to see different responses to Virginia’s emotional commitment. It was hailed as a brilliant study of gender norms and power dynamics – in New York, one aggressively threw money at Virginia, while the other was elegant.

Adding to the unpredictability are the ever-changing audience, the time of day (3am, for Wilson, will feel very different from 11am) and the fact that most of Wilson’s co-stars are non-actors. The participants, members of the public recruited through the theatre, were screened and given a script, but never rehearsed with Wilson. There’s no way to know how they’ll react when they’re in the spotlight.

„I think it’s going to be fun for the audience,” says Wilson. “Seeing how differently these people interpret material or how they respond when they get on stage. The audience can recognize if something is being put down. Or if they are so mad that they can’t do it. It can be a bit dangerous for them. And it would be too dangerous for me. I don’t know who these people are. Also, I think I’m watching one girl constantly being touched by 100 different guys [the two dance together]have a cumulative effect.”

A man and woman in a clinch against a wall

Ruth Wilson and Dominic West 'The Affair’ © Courtesy Showtime

Wilson previously spoke out about the need for actors to feel safe in intimate scenes and quit Showtime. affair A later magazine article described it as a „toxic” environment. to The second girl, the creative team has developed a „toolbox” of standard moves, responses, and defenses for Wilson to deal with whatever is thrown at him. But reliability depends somewhat on not being overproduced.

„It’s a study of communication,” he says. „To make it work, I have to go into what the person is doing. If I’m playing what I’m playing every time, there’s no connection. . . . For me, as an actor, it lands in that gray area between acting and reality. I’m always drawn to that, and I’m less in control.” Pushing in. Be open to coming in to see what happens.

There’s an immediacy to live theater that Wilson relishes, and he responds brilliantly with raw performances. At some point human voice She silently clings to the back wall for four minutes („People don’t know what to do”) and inside Hedda Gabler She drenched herself in tomato juice. Both are directed by Ivo van Hove, whose willingness to push both actors and audiences he admires – “art is designed to make people think” – and whose rehearsals are gifted with playfulness and analytical spontaneity.

„We never rehearsed one of the biggest moments in the play, when Hedda burns the manuscript. And then [one day] He said, 'Well, Ruth, in that scene, make theater.'” She burst out laughing. „I saw Hans Gesting. Kings of War And I thought, 'Well, I think I know what he means.’ So I did a wild, bacchanalian dance.

A man and a woman are in a translucent red-blue lighted box that resembles an onstage living room.

Australian version of 'The Second Woman’ © Nye Marie Photography

A woman in a black shirt stares at a man, whose back we only see

Ruth Wilson in rehearsal for 'The Second Woman’ © Beatrice Debney

In common with the immersive drama of companies like Punchdrunk, The second girl Showcasing the liveliness and unpredictability of theatre. There is a huge appetite for such work – The second girlPre-booked seats sold out quickly (you can access it on the day by queuing until the visitor exits). In a world dominated by technology and hyper-connectivity, Wilson says audiences prefer the immediacy of a live event.

„People crave a sense of community. For me, theater has always been a magical space of shared hope and imagination. There’s no endgame that has to run for three months. It’s a shared experience: an exploration of people and human connection. It’s very unique. People come, go and come back. I hope so. I think they will. They’ll wake up and say, 'Wow, she’s still at it. Who’s there now?'”

19 May 4pm to 20 May 4pm, Young Vic Theatre, London (co-produced with LIFT), youngvic.org

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