BWW Interview: Nancy Sullivan Talks FABRIC at Soho Theatre

BWW Interview: Nancy Sullivan Talks FABRIC at Soho Theatre
Nancy Sullivan in Fabric

Nancy Sullivan has been in shows such as Les Misérables and The Country Wife. She's now starring in Fabric, a one-woman play written by Abi Zakarian, which opens tomorrow at Soho Theatre.

What drew you to be a performer?

For me, it's the other way around - I think it draws you. I love the idea of becoming someone else when telling a story. I always find performing in concerts as myself really uncomfortable.

I really enjoy embodying a character that you've worked on and reliving a situation for them. I become really "un-self-aware" when I get to do that and gain comfort in not being recognisable. I love the escapism that it brings.

Tell us what Fabric is about

Fabric tells the story of a woman called Leah's life. Leah is an everyday woman from today's society and we should all see something in her; you can see a sister, friend or yourself, elements of lots of women. I would be surprised if Leah wasn't relatable to you in some way.

The piece recounts various past situations that lead to a specific event in her life at the start of the play, which I won't give away just now. It covers some hard stuff to talk about, but for me it's much more than that: it's essentially about being a woman in today's society and the situations we find ourselves in.

Why is it called Fabric?

It's borrowed from the phrase "fabric of society", i.e. what and who make up our culture.

What was your initial response to the piece?

It really changed me when I read it for the first time. I always thought I noticed when I was treated differently as a woman. The script opened my eyes to a whole different side of those everyday things that I wasn't aware of. It actually shocked me and challenged me to question these things more.

What do you like about Leah as a character?

I love her enthusiasm for trying to do everything right. She tries to be the best version of herself in every situation. She's an absolute romantic, a dreamer, she's ambitious. It's what makes her fun to play. It's important to cherish those moments when she's at her happiest for the times when she's not.

I also like that Leah is working class. We sadly see lots of working-class characters portrayed in theatre just in poverty. In many musicals and plays that deal with class you're either very upper class or you're just poor. There's a whole forgotten middle group.

I think it reflects the lack of featured working-class actors in the industry. It's nice to play what I am: working class, ambitious, and not just poor. Leah feels really close to home.

What is the most challenging aspect of retelling the sensitive content within Fabric?

The most challenging aspect is not to let the emotion come too soon. Leah's dealing with such a deep hurt, which I know about but the audience doesn't necessarily know about. I know what's coming and I know what's she's battling with.

Something else that's really hard when I'm playing Leah, going back over certain moments, is to not feel the trauma of what's to come and to stay in the moment of what she was like before "it" happened.

How do you deal with not letting the subject matter get to you after rehearsals?

It's real. It's draining and upsetting. But there's a massive sense of duty and respect in approaching the role. It's hard though, especially with it being a one-woman show!

I try to go running after rehearsals to shake it all off. It really is a miracle treatment. You feel so much better afterwards. It gets my endorphins pumping and I feel like me again. Leah wouldn't run, which helps!

How does being in a show by yourself compare to the larger ensemble projects you've been part of?

If you had castmates, after a difficult scene you could debrief and have a laugh over a cuppa afterwards. When you're the only actor in the show, you just go to work and spend a lot of time alone. The isolation and the nature of the piece is not the best marriage for your emotions.

But I do like not having to rely on material from another actor. I love the independence and that I am in control and responsible for where the show goes. It's really exciting.

With a one-person play, you just can't forget your lines. It's on you. It's just you. Your concentration can't waver for a second.

I did dream of having variety in my work and Fabric is certainly ticking that box after doing The Country Wife and Call the Midwife recently.

Was it always the intention of the production to partner with a charity like Solace Women's Aid?

Yes. There's a real fire in everybody involved in the project. We're really excited about women and men who wouldn't normally come to the theatre coming to see the show when we take it to community halls in regions of need identified by Solace.

Leah is one of those women. She's not one of those awakened feminist types. She probably wouldn't go to the theatre.

It's really great to have Solace on board, as they're going to be delivering workshops and Q&A sessions around the subject matter of Fabric when we go on tour, which is really important.

What impact do you hope the piece will have?

The sexual violence discussion makes for uncomfortable viewing, but it's important. If an audience member sees a grief on stage that they've experienced, it often brings comfort. I hope it makes both men and women think.

Women are often told we have to achieve marriage, children etc., and Fabric forces you to ask whether you want these things because it's expected or whether you truly want them.

Similarly, it's important for many men to see Fabric in the communities we're planning to take the show to, who might not be aware of tiny things they do and say everyday. If we can bring about that change in the small everyday things, we can bring massive change in society.

Why should people come to see Fabric?

Everyone should come to Fabric because everyone will relate to it in some way. Not everyone will like it, but it will hopefully make you question things. You can only learn from seeing it.

Fabric at Soho Theatre 11-17, then on tour

Photo credit: Kate Morely PR

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