Actress Billie Piper is expecting her second child — and a play she’s about to star in has been judiciously rewritten to accommodate her pregnancy.
Billie, who is married to actor Laurence Fox, is 15 weeks pregnant. She is due to perform the first preview of Neil LaBute’s play Reasons To Be Pretty at the Almeida Theatre on November 10, with an official first night on November 17.
Michael Attenborough, the Almeida’s artistic chief, who is also directing the production, said the actress was visibly distressed after the first night of My City — the Almeida’s current production.
‘She was upset and told me she was pregnant,’ Attenborough said.
He added she ‘very generously offered to withdraw’ from the show.
‘However, she was Neil LaBute’s and my first choice for the part — and fortunately the character is pregnant — so with a bit of judicious re-writing we’re all delighted she’ll be with us.
‘I told her that I’d love her to do it and she just wept on my shoulder,’ Attenborough told me. ‘She thought that was it. She was thrilled.’
When I saw the play performed in New York, it’s not immediately apparent that Carly, the character Billie will play, is pregnant — though you are made aware of it later. Now that LaBute has re-jigged his text, it will become very clear that Carly is expecting, which is good because by the end of the run in January, the one-time Doctor Who star will be more than six months pregnant.
It’s not unheard of for actresses to continue performing on stage when they are expecting — witness Amanda Holden in the musical Shrek recently — but it’s rare that a playwright, particularly one as renowned as LaBute, would amend a published script.
The playwright attended rehearsals and was impressed by Billie’s acting, as he was with her fellow cast members Sian Brooke, Kieran Bew and Tom Burke.
Billie and husband Laurence already have a son, Winston, who is three. She has not missed any rehearsals — and even managed to fit in a scan two weeks ago around her Almeida schedule. Reasons To Be Pretty is about the notion of beauty and how it has the power to bring joy or to destroy.
Billie’s role is that of a security guard whose partner has a bit of a wandering eye, though I’m not now sure if being a guard will still be the character’s profession.
The play is part of the Almeida’s new season. Following the LaBute drama will be The House Of Bernarda Alba with Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sarah Solemani — who stars with Russell Tovey in BBC3’s comedy success Him & Her.
Samantha Spiro follows that with Filumena, and later next year Jonathan Pryce will give us his King Lear, directed by Attenborough.
Love and war: Jack O'Connell with Alexandra Roach
There’s some corner of a field — not foreign, in this particular case, but near Ipswich, actually — that is for ever England.
I could not stop thinking about Rupert Brooke’s famous poem as I stood, breathing English air, while director Pat O’Connor directed his (mostly) young cast in the film Private Peaceful.
The actors moved about in trenches that are supposed to be in Flanders, but are actually recreated, using original specifications, in Akenham, outside Ipswich.
The trenches are well established and have been used before. In fact, I recognised them from recent episodes of Downton Abbey.
Private Peaceful is based on Michael Morpurgo’s bestselling novel, which has become a classroom staple. It’s about two brothers — Charlie and Tommo Peaceful, played by Jack O’Connell and George Mackay — who leave the peace of their West Country home for the hell of World War I France.
One of the siblings is court-martialled for cowardice, and Morpurgo’s book questions why lads barely out of their teens were shot on the flimsiest of evidence.
Guy De Beaujeu, who’s producing the film with Simon Reade (who penned the screenplay), noted that Morpurgo’s story is ‘about the folly of war and what a crazy, inhuman thing it is’.
Reade joined forces with Morpurgo several years ago and then enticed O’Connor to direct. Along with De Beaujeu, they sold shares in the film to cover some of the budget. They were keen not to be bossed about by any studio, here or abroad, on how to make their picture.
That said, they’re much obliged to Steven Spielberg for his interest in Morpurgo’s other best-seller, War Horse, which went from the printed page to the stage and, by January, will be on the big screen. (Private Peaceful has also been performed on stage and the radio.)
‘Simon got the idea of doing Private Peaceful as a film years before Spielberg had seen the National Theatre’s War Horse in London. However, our poster is going to say “From the writer of War Horse” — and why shouldn’t it?’ says De Beaujeu.
'From the writer of War Horse': Simon got the idea of doing Private Peaceful as a film years before Spielberg had seen the National Theatre's War Horse in London
Let’s be clear here: the catering budget for the human and equine cast of Spielberg’s much-anticipated film (I’m straining at the bit to see it) would have more than covered the total cost of shooting Private Peaceful.
But as Reade observed, Peaceful is different from War Horse: shot on modest terms, but rich in detail. The main leads are all up-and-coming actors.
O’Connell, 21, who portrayed Bobby Charlton in the TV film United and made his debut in Shane Meadows’s classic This Is England, was in the cadets in his early teens and briefly flirted with the idea of going into the Army.
‘You don’t know the reality of such things when you’re a boy,’ he says. He studied World War I at school, but it’s only now, because he’s had to research the full horror of it all, that he understands what lads of his age went through.
McKay played Clive Owen’s son in the under-rated The Boys Are Back and appears in Working Title’s TV version of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, also set against the backdrop of World War I.
Alexandra Roach, who plays Molly — the girl both brothers love — will soon be seen as the young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and is filming Anna Karenina, opposite Keira Knightley and Jude Law, for director Joe Wright.