04 July 2011

Every family will relate to it: Meet the Churchills

Helen Moulder takes a break from playing the wife of iconic figure Winston Churchill to give drama on the waterfront some insight into her character, Lady Clementine Churchill, as well as a look behind-the-scenes of Meet the Churchills.

DOTW: Please tell us about your character, Lady Clementine Churchill.

HM: Clementine Churchill was born in London in 1885, so was a child of the Victorian age. Her mother was the daughter of the 10th Earl of Airlie and her father is uncertain! In the play she says, “He was one of three men, we are simply uncertain which.” Clementine had a difficult and impecunious early life and it was only through the help of an aunt, that she was able to “come out” in London society where she eventually met Winston.  Apart from one brief affair, she was devoted to Winston throughout their life together – they seemed to be very affectionate – but at times she found life with him very difficult and took lots of holidays away from him.  She suffered from neuritis for many years but all her nervous ailments disappeared when Winston died.  She was made a life peer in her own right in 1965 for her services to the Red Cross and other charities and is described as being rather severe. 

Helen Moulder as Lady Clementine Churchill in Meet the Churchills. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What are the challenges involved in playing this character? Is it more challenging to play a real, historical figure than a fictional character?

HM: Fortunately for me, it is not well known now what Clementine Churchill looked and sounded like, so I had a relatively clean slate.  However, one does feel a responsibility to a real person to get it as right as possible and my main source was an excellent biography of Clementine by her daughter Mary Soames , quite a lot of photographs and the published letters between Winston and Clementine.  The main challenge was the ageing – she was 79 in 1962 when the play is set and I am 63. I had some good help with that – a grey wig and makeup advice and I worked hard at finding a certain physical frailty in my body and voice.

DOTW: Did you know much about Winston Churchill and his family prior to working on this play? How did that factor into your approach to the work?

HM: I knew a reasonable amount about Winston Churchill and had heard the children’s names, but knew no details and certainly nothing about Clementine.  This has made the preparation process wonderfully interesting and rewarding, with the book reading, film watching and group discussions at rehearsals.  The more I found out about her, the more I was able to salt away into my subconscious, which then hopefully contributes to what I do on stage.

Carmel McGlone and Helen Moulder in Meet the Churchills. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What can you tell us about your fellow cast members and director Ross Jolly?

HM: I’ve worked with Ray Henwood and Jeff Kingsford-Brown several times before, notably with Ray in Two, Noel and Gertie, Hay Fever, Moonlight and Phantom of the Opera (Ken Hill) and Jeff in Nuncrackers, Mum’s Choir, Cynthia Fortitude’s Farewell and Phantom, so we know each other very well, which helps a lot. Carmel and I have worked together once before in Urinetown at Downstage, although we were in Hens’ Teeth together for ten years performing separate acts, and it’s the first time I’ve worked with Byron Coll.  The last time I worked with director Ross Jolly was in Pinter’s Moonlight in 1995, so it’s been great to work with him again.  The rehearsal process was very lively and enjoyable which helped us all gel as a team. We got very good at doing the daily quiz in the Dominion Post at lunchtime, for example! I admire them all tremendously, actually – well, you become like a family for the duration of the show.

DOTW: Have there been any stand-out experiences while working on this play so far?

HM: I suppose when I first put on my costume, wig and the makeup artist did my face, and I saw myself as an 80 year old. It was quite a magical moment, as I felt myself really inhabiting the shoes of Clementine. Up until that moment I had been unsure as to whether I could, so it was a tremendous relief.

DOTW: Finally, what should audiences know about Meet the Churchills?

HM: Apart from containing a fair amount of fascinating historical discussion, the main thrust of the play is the “unfinished business” within the family and that to me is the really interesting stuff. Every family will relate to it. As well as that, the characters are wonderful and the humour very insightful and clever.

Meet the Churchills. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Meet the Churchills is on in Circa One until 16 July - tickets can be booked at the Circa Box Office, 801-7992, or online at www.circa.co.nz

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