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Doing The Splits

7 May 2012 | 7:26 pm | Dave Drayton

"It’s going to be set on a spaceship! And everyone’s robots!" - Has Toby Truslove turned into his Outland character? Nope, just the star of Laid and Tangle getting over-excited.

“Simon called up the agent – I was in Melbourne, where I'm based – and said 'I'd like to see Toby for this', so they flew me up and it was just more of a chat really,” Toby Truslove recalls his first involvement with Belvoir for the upcoming production of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning Strange Interlude, to be directed by Simon Stone. “I think Simon has ideas in his head, he has the fully-formed picture of what he wants in his head. So I came in, read a bit, and then went to the pub. And then I got on a plane, so that was that.”

In that vision Toby Truslove was the character of Sam Evans; amiable, affable and one of three vying for the love of Nina Leeds (despite Evans' marriage to her), who will be portrayed by Emily Barclay. In conversation with Truslove, it seems Stone's instincts were spot on. He darts between a serious and open discussion of the task before him and a far from serious recount of how he has prepared for it. If insanity runs in the Evans' bloodline, Truslove appears ready to hint at its potential on stage.

“Sam's the nice guy, certainly at the start. He's the nice kind of inoffensive guy, a little bit naive, takes everything at face value, hopelessly in love with Nina. And she's not forced to marry him, but it's suggested by all around her that she should marry Sam because he's a nice guy.

“There's a little split personality if you like. He's got this stuff, this potential to lose it, which we never see, but it's there when he's talking to himself and he's got these distinct voices – the pathetic voice and the stronger voice, which he kind of grows into, as he gets older that becomes his main voice and he loses the pathetic because he thinks everything is going his way and he is living this wonderful life and he thinks his wife loves him and thinks his child loves him, so he kind of becomes that strong, almost obnoxious part of your brain,” says Truslove – clearly in serious mode – before the more jovial Truslove again takes the fore.

“I'd never read Strange Interlude, I was familiar with O'Neill – Morning Becomes Electra and that stuff – but they sent the play down and the original is a staggering five-hour piece. So I read it and was like, 'Really? You're going to do this? You're going to do this – this, this is a thing?'” Truslove impersonates himself toeing the line between disbelief and incredulity. “And he was like 'No no, we're going to the, ah, the Simon Stone treatment to it'.”

While the accuracy of Truslove's second impersonation could be questioned – it's doubtful Stone really refers to his practice in the third person – it gets the point across. Strange Interlude, as with Thyestes and The Wild Duck before it, has been drastically reshaped, rewritten, and cut down by Stone.

“Simon said it was going to change substantially, and as an actor there's a bit of trust involved, you go 'alright, what kind of change? How?'” says Truslove, before launching into another questionable impersonation of Stone: “'It's going to be set on a spaceship! And everyone's robots!'

“I assumed that wasn't what was going to happen, but there's no guarantee.”

Upstairs, Belvoir St Theatre until 17 June.