13 June 2011

Funny, sad and altogether riveting: Meet the Churchills

Waitaki Boys' High School principal Paul Baker tells drama on the waterfront all about his new play, Meet the Churchills, which will premiere at Circa on 18 June.

DOTW: What inspired you to write Meet the Churchills

PB: A biography of Clementine Churchill (Sir Winston’s wife). I found the Churchills to be funny, sad and altogether riveting. Larger than life, they were obsessed with creating and maintaining their own truths. I imagined a family luncheon during which some of those truths were challenged. And (five years ago) started writing...

DOTW: What were your greatest challenges in writing the play?

PB: A   being faithful to the historical record whilst remaining a dramatist.
       B   filtering the vast complexity of Churchill history into two hours.
       C  shaping events into a satisfying dramatic structure. 

DOTW: Who or what are your influences?

PB: Ayckbourn, Albee, Chekhov, Coward and Pinter. Not Rattigan.

DOTW: How has the play been developed?

PB: Two public readings (Fortune and ATC), a two day ATC workshop, an ATC script advisor (Phillipa Campbell) and two Playmarket assessments. It is wonderful how much assistance is now available to a New Zealand playwright.  Director Ross Jolly has also helped me define and refine, and bears all responsibility for the finished product.

My first play, Conscience, was not ‘developed’ in any way, and it showed.  

DOTW: How closely did you work with the cast and crew? 

PB: A few discussions with Ross Jolly, and a day with the cast in which further nips and tucks were amicably negotiated.

DOTW: Is it difficult to turn your work over to someone else to bring it to life for the stage?

PB: Fortunately I am a busy school principal so don’t have time to fret about ‘my baby’.  In any case, there comes a point where you are so maternal that you can’t see the nappy for the crap. A fresh perspective is necessary for that final step from page to stage. It must be very difficult (and hazardous) to direct the first production of your own play.

DOTW: What can you tell us about director Ross Jolly?

PB: He is the first person to wish to direct the play. A man of foresight and compassion. 

DOTW: What are your thoughts on your play premiering at Circa Theatre?

PB: I actually wrote it with the Court in mind as they have such an Anglophilic audience.  Hopefully a successful Circa season will convince the Court and other theatre companies to convert general expressions of interest into specific income for me.  

DOTW: What are your greatest current anxieties?

PB: A   That critics will say:
·    I have reduced England’s grandest family to a situation comedy. 
·    There are too many facts.
·    There are too many themes. 
·    They are not likely to say there are too many notes as it is not a musical.

      B    That there will be no further productions.

      C   That there will be further productions. If I turn it into a musical.

D   That Lady Soames (Winston’s surviving child) will sue. 

DOTW: Finally, what can audiences expect from Meet the Churchills?

PB: To be entertained, moved, stimulated, and - unless they are Churchill buffs - to be surprised.   

Meet the Churchills opens on 18 June in Circa One. Tickets are on sale now at the Circa Box Office, please call 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz

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