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38 years on, a university reunion on the stage

1982 university cast of The Assassin reunite to stage play all over again in Primrose Hill church

05 July, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Sara Wheeler

IT is almost 40 years since Sara Wheeler directed Jean Paul Sartre’s classic political thriller, The Assassin, in an Oxford university amateur dramatics production.

Tomorrow (Friday), for one night only at a church in Primrose Hill, she will do so again with six members of the original cast, who have reunited to put on the same play again.

One of the former troupe – now a university professor of philosophy in Colorado – has flown over from the United States just to take part.

Ms Wheeler, 58, a prize- winning author who was first female writer-in-residence at the South Pole in the 1990s, had been considering the idea for several months.

She said: “The idea had turned over in my mind for a long time. I decided if I could get 60 per cent of the original cast it would make it worthwhile. I contacted a lot of alumni departments – asking people to forward the message on. I couldn’t find everyone, but for the ones we did I think for most of them it was a tremendous shock.”

She added: “We are all facing a very different future to what we were facing 38 years ago. We are looking at old age. We have six of the originals, and three new members of the cast, one of whom is my son.”

The play is a non-French version of Sartre’s Les Mains Sales, also known as Dirty Hands.

Set in the fictional country of Illyria, between 1943 and 1945, it tells the story of the assassination of a leading politician.

Ms Wheeler said Sartre was a “committed socialist” and that the play questioned how best to achieve “fabulous communist ideals”, adding: “Sartre was a big thing then, very fashionable. But I suppose communism has gone down the list in the popularity stakes – and quite a lot of what Sartre said has been discredited. He has been seen as an old fraud on some issues.”

The original Oxford university production

Ms Wheeler studied modern languages at Oxford when she translated and directed the play that was performed at the city’s Burton Rooms playhouse in 1981.

Professor Alastair Norcross said he got Ms Wheeler’s email “right out of the blue”, adding: “At first my reaction was disappointment as I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it, but then I realised I could be in London. It has brought back happy memories from 38 years ago. I play the assassin.”

He added: “A lot of what Sartre wrote I am not too keen on, but I think of all his work this is the one most worth doing.”

Ms Wheeler, who lives in South End Green, has written biographies and travel books on Greece, Chile and both polar regions. She will be talking about her latest book Mud and Stars – described as exploring relationship between Russia’s landscape and its golden age of writers – at Primrose Hill Community Library on July 17.

The Assassin in at St Mark’s Church, St Mark’s Square. It starts at 8pm and is free, first-come first-served.

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