SOME actors are known for unconventional preparation. Robert de Niro famously put on weight for Raging Bull. Daniel Day-Lewis spent months in a wheelchair for My Left Foot. Now, Ilkley Playhouse’s Sarah Potter has added an equally unconventional twist for her next role.

She is spending time watching her sister’s dog in preparation for her eponymous role in the Playhouse’s upcoming presentation of AR Gurney’s play, Sylvia. The unconventional romantic comedy examines the relationship between a man, a woman and… a dog.

Empty-nesters Greg and Kate have moved to Manhattan after 20 years of suburban fmaily life. As Kate’s career starts to take off, post child-rearing, Greg finds himself increasingly disillusioned with his own. Into this period of change wanders a charming mongrel called Sylvia, found by Greg in the park. Greg, smitten, wants to keep her. Kate doesn’t. And the audience is taken on an engaging emotional journey into marital woes and mid-life crises.

“The idea of giving a dog human characteristics allows the audience to see the connections between the characters from a broader perspective,” says Sarah, who plays Sylvia. “She is utterly exuberant and lives completely in the moment, which can be difficult to achieve in the world today. She sees things from a very basic point of view: everything is either black or white and this informs the dynamics of the play.

“I was drawn to the role because of its physicality. It presents a completely different set of challenges for an actor. Most frequently, playing a part demands the actor to go from the inside out in a way; to reflect on the character’s feelings, motivations, back story, relationships. This is not so with Sylvia. The motivation for her is of the moment. Is she hungry, does someone smell good, is she safe? She loves to make people happy and is very instinctive.”

So how did Sarah prepare for the role? “I’ve spent time watching dogs,” she says. “My sister has a dog, Cally, and there’s a bit of her in Sylvia. Because she’s a dog and a person, the performance needs to balance the two, which has been an enjoyable challenge.”

* Sylvia runs at Ilkley Playhouse from May 8-12.

For tickets call (01943) 609539.