The Little Theatre has started to get very big in its ambitions. Over the past year the community theatre has started to take on a number of big productions, championing local emerging artists and offering opportunities for them to showcase their talent.

“It’s a dangerously masculine script.”

New director Edward Spence is one of the beneficiaries, although to put it this way sells him short somewhat. After beginning his directing career in what he calls ‘an accident’, Spence has gone on to sell out shows at The Little, with productions of Rope and Butley bringing in huge audiences at the long-running theatre.

Next up he takes on Sleuth, Anthony Schaffer’s mystery masterpiece that can only be described as a melting pot of tension and deceit. “I think people are drawn to dark stories because I think there is something very dark about all our personalities. We’re not all good, nor are we all evil – even people like Trump have some redeeming qualities, I’m sure!” Trump is a good example, seeing as Sleuth truly digs its nails into issues of immigration, class and – as Spence puts it – “poisonous masculinity.”

“It’s a dangerously masculine script. In the 2006 film, which was rewritten by Harold Pinter, there’s a line in which one of the characters literally says ‘I hate women!’ The interesting thing about a play like Sleuth is that, at present, it’s particularly prescient. It allows for exploration of things that are very current at the moment.”

The director has taken on a number of murder-mystery stories over the past year, an interest that Spence puts down to the heightened drama of plays that look at the depths of human immorality. “I think there’s something of a visceral and vicarious thrill in watching something like a thriller or a horror, because we open ourselves quite readily to the idea of being scared.”

Although, I wonder, perhaps the appeal of such stories is that they are not so scary as the reality that we face in our society. The logic behind the characters’ intentions and the rules that govern their world are somewhat soothing to the chaos of ours. “There’s constant reference to game play and rules. The interesting thing about tackling a thriller, particularly one that’s so witty and so cleverly written with so many twists and turns, it allows you to take the audience on a very dark journey.”

To discuss the cast of the play is to reveal too much of the story, but Spence does give a little away. “It’s really exciting working with the cast that I have because they are so versatile, it’ll be really fun to challenge them and push them in new directions – and I think directions the audience might not expect either.”

The enigmatic nature of this production makes this enigmatic play even more appealing, a mood that perhaps The Little are capitalising on.

With the local arts scene growing faster than ever, the theatre is establishing its role in the midst of fresh demand from younger audiences for theatre that is relevant to them. “The Little has been around longer than most theatres in Leicester, it’s the Joe Orton theatre, and I think it’s interesting to see how it’s evolved over the many decades it has been around,” Spence explains. “I think that The Little are beginning to branch out, to recognise that there is a younger audience who is hungry for newer, very vital, very important theatre.”

Opening their doors to the city’s emerging artists and combining well-loved plays with unknown talent such as Spence is a wise move for The Little Theatre, choosing consistently relevant productions that aren’t afraid to shake up its audience. “I think it will be fun, even if people have seen the play before, to challenge their preconceptions of what the play is meant to be and what it says about us.”

Sleuth is on at The Little Theatre 6th-11th February, 7:30pm.

Natalie Beech is a playwright, freelance journalist and Deputy Editor of Great Central.

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