The directors discuss preparing Kingdom Come for the September Mischief Festival.
Tell us about yourselves.
Gemma: I make theatre and work as an actor. A lot of my work is about collaborating with other theatre makers and I am a founder of a theatre company called Shunt. We ran buildings in London where we created large scale shows and curated work. As an actor, I have most recently been in an independent film, No Light and No Land Anywhere. I have also been in plays written by Chris Goode, Chris Thorpe, Handspring and Coney.
Wendy: I usually work as a director or a dramaturg. More recently I have been working with Chris Goode, including directing his play Men in the Cities (Royal Court/Traverse), co-directing GOD/HEAD, The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley, Speed Death of the Radiant Child and a live rewiring of Chekov’s Three Sisters called …Sisters (Gate/Headlong). The last few years have also been concentrated on working towards a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London, and a small child.
Where did the idea for Kingdom Come begin?
The project started ages ago with Gemma’s fascination with court masques during the time of the Stuart kings and queens. A court masque at that time was an extravagant theatrical production which combined poetry, dance, music and song. What we were really interested in was the hierarchy within these court masques. In the masque, they used perspective design, where they ordered the stage space into a visual hierarchy, giving the perfect view to just one seat – the king's. The further away you were sat from him, the more inferior you and your view were. When Charles I was king, he occupied centre stage as well, meaning the whole masque was framed around the power of his presence.
What made you focus on this period?
The time we are focusing on was called a period of interregnum in English history. It is the time from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. With no king, normal government was suspended. It was a time of profound political upheaval. We think it’s hugely fascinating and has real contemporary relevance.
When we first started thinking about the show, we were interested in this point in history being a black hole, a lost revolution. If you grow up in France you celebrate Bastille Day; you mark the moments when democracy, liberty, equality and fraternity fought their way to prominence. But British history is structured around a list of monarchs, with this one odd, ugly, difficult gap. We want to reclaim our radical heritage and share with audiences our fascination with this moment and what it meant for the country.
We were also interested in what this time of interregnum meant for the theatre. In 1642 Parliament closed the theatres and they didn’t reopen until 1660, because they believed theatres were a place of wicked and immoral behaviour and that there was something fundamentally wrong about pretending to be something you were not. As Hamlet says, ‘God has given you one face, and you make yourself another'. The idea of royalty got caught up in this. The king was too enamoured of ceremony, too fond of performing majesty – he made himself look like a fake. We dissolved our monarchy and our House of Lords along with our cathedrals and playhouses. We were drawn to the challenge of making a theatre show about a hatred of theatre.
What can audiences expect from Kingdom Come?
This show will feel very different to what has been seen so far in the Studio at The Other Place. The first part is an impressionistic reconstruction of the last court masque before civil war broke out. The second part explores the enormity of the execution of Charles I. The third part takes us into an ordinary household in Cheapside as the new puritan state tightens its grip.
The show tracks the puritan desire to tear down the king’s theatre. It’s about a desire to smash and break, which can be destructive and frightening but could also be a desire to break open a system, to make it possible to build something new.
How do you think you will use the studio at The Other Place?
We don’t want to tell you too much. The show is definitely about different ways of seeing. The audience will move at points.
How will your show be different?
We’re making the piece with an amazing group of actors. Through our rehearsal process we will create the show together. The show is a collaboratively made project and will explore an amazing moment in history.