The Lion, the Bitch and the Soldier

Katie Brennan, director of The Lion in Winter and stage manager for Clockwork, interviews and is interviewed by Alex Mullarky, director of Clockwork and publicity officer for The Lion in Winter. (Both shows are produced by Emily Grant!)Katie: So, Alex, tell me about Clockwork!Alex: Clockwork is a play. I started writing it in my head several years ago, and on my computer a few months ago. It's the story of a First World War army officer called Will, but it's also the story of a French girl called Manon with an extraordinary ability. It's about how they meet and how they change one another's lives. It's about war and it's about hope.Now, you tell me about The Lion in Winter!Katie: The Lion in Winter is one of my favourite plays of all time so I'm super, super excited that I get to direct it this semester. It's written by James Goldman, and was adapted into an incredible movie with Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole as Eleanor and Henry in the 60s. It has everything I love in it- comedy (but in a darkly biting way), messed up family dynamics and it stars some of my favourite players in English history- Henry II (son of my favourite historical lady, Matilda the Empress) and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one the most badass women of the Middle Ages. Her first husband was the King of France! She divorced her him to marry Henry! She led multiple civil wars against Henry! So great. The Plantagenets are beautifully twisted and horrible to each other, but I think it's both relevant to a lot of people and really, really fun to watch.Katie: So, Alex, why World War I? It's one of my favourite periods in history so I'm biased, but why did you go with that?Alex: I have been obsessed with the world wars since I was a child (as weird as that sounds). My dad loves all things historical so I was guided towards the books and films of the period and had watched all the classics by the age of about 12. I read Birdsong when I was 13 (and was totally taken aback by the sexual content!). Then when I was 16 I wrote my first book, set in the second world war. I felt like I was doing my dad proud with that. In Clockwork I tried to encapsulate all my feelings about the incomprehensibility of the First World War and its inhumanity. It's a difficult thing to try to express on the page. I've been trying to tell this story for a really long time. I have a few pages of prose from when I attempted to write it as a novel with an omniscient narrator like in The Book Thief. But when I tried to write it as a play, it actually worked. In short - lifelong obsession, inspired by my dad.So what is it about the Angevin Empire you love so much, Katie?Katie: Hmmm. I think it goes back to my love of Matilda the Empress, really, as she was one of the founding members of the dynasty. Brief history lesson here! She was married off to a Holy Roman Emperor at the age of eight, then her brother died and she became the sole heir to the English crown. When her father died (Henry I) she couldn't get to England fast enough (she was on bad terms with her father at the time since he'd married her off to a man she hated after her first husband died) and her cousin Stephen of Blois stole her crown. She then spent the years between 1135-1153 trying to get her rightful crown back and only succeeded through her son, Henry, who we meet at the end of his reign after he secured the crown following Matilda's realization that she would never be crowned as 12th century people were wary of having a woman on the throne of England. And then... it's just a collection of really, really powerful people behaving horribly to each other. Mostly I just love Matilda, and the dynasty she creates that rules England for a REALLY REALLY LONG TIME. And they're all kind of crazy and horrible to each other and I love them.So Alex, what I love about Clockwork (I really love Clockwork, readers) is that even though it's clearly historical, there's a little bit of magic to it, which is always my favorite in everything. Throw magic everywhere, I say. Is there a reason you thought to add in Manon's 'skill'? And it's based on Breton folklore, am I right?Alex: It is indeed! My French teacher in school was brilliant and used to go off on long-winded tangents about French culture in every lesson. That's when I learned that the seventh child of a family was once believed to have healing abilities, and that's the idea I play on - though not rigidly - in Clockwork. I was uncertain about including this idea in a WWI piece as I didn't want to seem as though I was treating this human catastrophe flippantly, but it gelled so well and just made so much sense I couldn't take it out. Dealing with her 'ability' - for both Manon and Will - is also a subject the characters debate and struggle with. I love me a bit of magic realism.Alex: The Lion has a lot of sexual references in it, many of them highly entertaining. You're performing in a church - how do you feel about that? (Personally I love it.)Katie: The church part was a bit iffy for a little while, actually. There are a few scenes (well, one in particular) that worried me to no end, as it's a kiss between two male characters. In front of an altar. I mean, I don't know how that goes here but in the States there would be quite a strong reaction to that. Especially as it's in a working (gorgeous!) church we were a bit worried. But the guy we're working with who's renting the space to us said that he thought it should all be fine, as it's just love, and God is love, so there shouldn't be any problem with it! Though, as this is The Lion in Winter, there are meanings and intricacies to everything, and the scene is not as straightforward as it appears.So ... magical realism. Go! What do you like about the genre in particular?Alex: I'm so sick of all the paranormal teenage books going around at the moment. This may sound irrelevant but it's not. It's so beautiful when magic can be worked into a text without being addressed and explained in our terms. Those paranormal books feel the need to make magic make sense but that's not the point of it (in my opinion). So that's what I like about magic realism.In your not-so-biased opinion, who’s the best character of The Lion in Winter?Katie: Ohhhh nooooo. I think best character and favorite character are probably two different answers as well. The best character, I think, would have to be Henry and Eleanor tied, strangely enough. They're the most well-constructed, most thought out and Henry has one beautiful speech at the end of Act I that breaks my heart every time. Favorite character? I have a soft spot for Geoffrey, and it always upsets me the way history plays out, because even though he was striving for power in the play (and potentially in real life, though we'll really never know) he dies three years after the play takes place. Also Eleanor is one of my personal heroes in life so she's on there too. She went on a Crusade with her first husband, Louis, and she and her ladies rode bare-breasted part of the way. You really can’t beat that.So what types of research did you do for the show, if any? And can you talk about any set plans that you have?Alex: I googled a lot of stupid questions when I was writing. I felt I had a pretty solid general knowledge of the period from my reading but specific things would come up that I'd just have to ask the internet. I love listening to music from around 1914-18. It's amazing - 'your king and country needs you' and 'pack up your troubles in your old kit bag' - they were really going for it propaganda-wise! In terms of set, it's composed of a dugout, a boulangerie, and No Man's Land, all at the same time. I'll let you puzzle that one out, readers.I like those questions so I'm firing them back at you, Katie!Katie: I took a medieval history course last semester (I am currently taking two, and it might possibly end up being part of my degree) that focused on the development of England (it was mostly England, sorry everyone else) and what came to be known as 'England' from about the 15th century onwards. So there was a section that dealt with the Plantagenets, and that's... really all the historical bit I did? I mean, the point of the show, partially, is to make everything a bit anachronistic, Eleanor even has a line that's like 'It's 1183 and we're barbarians!'The main ideas I have about set and costume-y type things are just... mainly I don't want everything to look super clean and like an idealized version of the Middle Ages. That's kind of one of my pet peeves with medieval period pieces, where everyone looks nice and clean and neat. I mean, we'll do what we can because we're renting costumes from the National Opera and I've already told the actors they're not even allowed to BREATHE on them, so...So, Alex, why should everyone come see Clockwork?Alex: I guess it depends on the kind of person you are. Maybe you feel we should all be aware of the trauma and horror these people underwent (I do). Maybe you like explosions (well…). Maybe you like love stories (don't we all?). Maybe you just like a good evening's entertainment. In short... there's no reason why you shouldn't!And why should we go see The Lion in Winter?Katie: Two dudes making out in front of an altar. JUST KIDDING. Mostly, it's a family drama with some really excellent acting and a really pretty set. Also some food will be there. Potentially.For more information, visithttp://thelioninwinterplay.wordpress.comhttp://clockworkplay.tumblr.comImage credit: Katie Brennan, Helen Miller