PARTNERS Andrew Dunn and Andrina Carroll are playing not one but two husbands and wives in York Theatre Royal’s premiere of iShandy.

From tomorrow, they will be appearing in Richard Hurford’s play, very loosely based on Laurence Sterne’s labyrinthine Yorkshire novel, The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Both are playing members of a teachers’ book club, who are meeting to discuss the latest ambitious choice in their season of Yorkshire classics, the insurmountable Tristram Shandy.

“We’re actors playing teachers who then play characters from the book and then actors playing all the parts,” says Andrina.

“In the first half, I’m Fran, who is the head of a successful academy school – and I’m also Mrs Shandy and Widow Wadham; in the second I’m Mrs Shandy and Geraldine, an actress.”

Confused? Hopefully you won’t be. Over to you Andrew. “I’m playing Tim, headmaster of a failing school, struggling with Ofsted. I’m also Walter Shandy, father of Tristram, and in the second half, I become an actor who’s playing all the parts, Anthony.”

Yes, that’s clear. “So, we’re partners in real life who are playing Mr and Mrs Shandy,” says Andrina.

“And we have a relationship as the heads of the schools, Tim and Fran, who are married, but it’s causing a lot of friction because running a school is going well for her but not for him,” says Andrew.

“So it’s layers on layers on layers, but hopefully it will make some kind of nonsensical sense and hopefully it will be hilarious amid all the chaos, though there is a sort of order emerging from the chaos,” says Andrina.

Andrew and Andrina, who live in York, last appeared together on stage in Damian Cruden’s production of the mining community drama Brassed Off in September 2004.

Cruden is at the helm once more in the rehearsal room for iShandy and this time it has been a more impromptu experience, the actors having to respond to a new, still changing script.

“We spent the first week working long hours with the writer in residence here and we basically bashed our way through the whole thing, seeing what would work and what wouldn’t, and also deciding what to cut,” says Andrina.

“It was also about developing the characters in our head,” says Andrew.

“And all the time, you are aware that there are about five layers to it,” says Andrina.

“And then there’s a narrator, Footnote, who is commenting on the writer’s way of working because he reckons he hasn’t got a big enough part,” says Andrew.

The second week of rehearsals was like “fog clearing”, according to Andrina. “Part of the challenge has been to find a cohesive style to the play that is clear but also entertaining as you can’t lose contact with the fact that it’s supposed to be an entertaining night out,” she says.

“It’s rather hard to describe as a piece because it’s totally different to anything I’ve done before. It’s definitely not an adaptation but a response to the book, as Richard [Hurford] says.

“I suppose, if anything, it’s about life and how chaotic and random and silly and funny life is, but it’s also profoundly moving.”

Andrew rejoins: “It’s also very bawdy with bits that are like Carry On films. Viagra is mentioned a lot.”

Analysing the non-linear ending, Andrina says: “What we’re creating is something where the audience is not being dictated to as to what they should think, so they can all go away with their own opinions. Like life, it’s what you get out of it – which is why you don’t need to have read Sterne’s book.”

• York Theatre Royal presents iShandy from tomorrow until May 11. Box office: 01904 623568 or