What leapt off the page back in 2008 was this emotional kick that somehow gets under your skin and breaks your heart.

“It has everything you would ever hope to read as a director – it’s a gift, and an actor’s dream.”

Director Jamie Lloyd was mystified when he read the first draft of The Pride, submitted under the name David Campbell, as he looked for something to direct at the Royal Court Theatre in 2008.

“There was nothing to be found on the internet about this guy,” he says. “He didn’t exist!”

In fact the script had been submitted under a pseudonym by the partner of then Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cooke, Alexi Kaye Campbell. It was his first play.

“He was concerned about perceived nepotism,” says Lloyd, who adds that The Pride is the first play he has ever returned to as a director.

He followed up its critically acclaimed Royal Court debut in 2008 with a West End run at the Trafalgar Studios in 2013, prior to this short national tour which takes in Brighton.

It was the play’s topicality which saw Lloyd return to the production as part of his season at the Trafalgar Studios – Trafalgar Transformed.

“The thing I wanted to do was hold my nerve and programme plays at the last minute,” he says. “I wanted to see what was happening outside the theatre and create more reactive programming to interact with the real world.”

The rise of the equal marriage bill in the UK, and the increase in the persecution of gay people in Russia led him back to The Pride – which examines attitudes to homosexuality across two time periods separated by more than 50 years.

Opening in an awkward 1958 packed with social convention, the first scene focuses on a love triangle as Sylvia comes to terms with her husband’s latent homosexuality, in a world where it is still illegal.

But the next scene sees the action move to the present day, where Sylvia now acts as a confidante to a gay couple with the spectre of marriage and long-term commitment making changes to the way they live their lives.

“The character of Oliver in 2013 is on a tipping point, going through a lot of self-analysis,” says Lloyd.

“Against a backdrop of equal marriage, as a gay man he is saying he has loved and indulged in this culture of anonymous and casual sex with strangers in public places.

“Now there is this option open to him to live in an equal marriage – so does he need to participate in that lifestyle? In one present-day scene, Sylvia says that cruising and cottaging in public toilets was done through necessity, when homosexuality was almost in exile, hiding from oppression and repression – and you don’t need to do that in 2013.

“The play doesn’t preach what anyone in that community should do – it offers the same questions that are being asked by people in that society.”

Evolving attitudes

The action shifts back and forth between the two time periods to spin out the parallel stories.

“The characters are all from the same clay and raw material, but you break that clay in half and send one rolling in one direction, and the other the other way,” says Lloyd explaining the relationship between each section.

“You can see the changing attitudes towards homosexuality and gender politics in the intervening years because both periods are literally put up against each other.

“It was about finding the essence of a character with the knowledge that they live in very different circumstances. By the end of the play each actor is playing two very different characters.”

It means The Pride is challenging both technically and emotionally.

“The actors have to do incredibly quick changes backstage,” says Lloyd. “It’s not just changing their hair and costume – the way they often describe it is every cell of their body has to change in an instant. They can’t let anything from the previous scene bleed through to the next.

“You will get an incredibly heartbreaking line in one scene, and the next second it will be incredibly funny. Part of what makes it so theatrical and exciting is the audience is always on its toes waiting to see what happens next.”

An actor’s challenge

Arguably the biggest name in the touring production, Gavin And Stacey star Mathew Horne, has an extra challenge in that he plays three very different characters over the course of the play, compared with his co-stars Harry Hadden-Paton, Al Weaver and Naomi Sheldon (replacing Hayley Atwell in the touring version) who play variants of the same character over the two time periods.

“He really has to turn on a sixpence and transform himself over and over again,” says Lloyd, who has also directed the new West End version of The Commitments, currently at the Palace Theatre.

“Audiences will be surprised how skilled and versatile he really is – he gets into the dark heart of a character, but also makes you laugh.”

Sheldon is the only new addition to the cast for the tour, after Atwell was unable to hit the road because of film commitments – including a role in the new Cinderella movie.

Sheldon was involved in the 2013 revival of the play as Atwell’s understudy.

“She went on a few times during the London run and blew me away,” says Lloyd. “Alexi the writer loved her performance too, so when it came to the tour we thought it would be wrong to cast somebody else.

“Naomi was there right from the beginning, listening to everything going on in rehearsals. It was fantastic for the guys to have somebody they knew and respected to go on tour with.”

He says the relationship between the four actors is vital to the play’s success.

“It’s incredibly intimate sometimes,” he says. “The people on stage need an incredible trust – they’ve got to be able to feel quite vulnerable and take risks to make the story true and compelling, and have more fun in the comedic scenes. There’s a sense of play among the actors, and it is felt and enjoyed by the audience.”

The original play was set in 2008, so Lloyd approached Campbell to make some subtle tweaks to bring the script bang up to date.

“I don’t think Grinder was around in 2008, or at least not in such a big way,” says Lloyd, referring to the popular GPS-based gay dating iPhone app.

“We made a few subtle re-writes to references that felt dated five years on, and jokes that didn’t land as well.”

He admits he approached his return to The Pride as like approaching a brand new play.

“I made a point of going into rehearsals and forgetting what I did the last time,” he says.

Now The Pride is on tour, Lloyd is focusing on the West End debut of 2001 Broadway hit and Tony Award-winner Urinetown, which is due to open for previews at London’s St James Theatre next month.

“It became quite a cult hit, but has never been performed in this country,” says Lloyd. “It looks at the way our life is unsustainable.

“It is set in a place where everyone has to pay to pee, as all public amenities are owned by private corporations, who keep admission prices very high.

“It’s an off-the-wall piece for sure, but it has a great integrity and great score. It’s amazingly exciting!”