The playwright chatted to us about Bed Peace currently playing at the Cockpit Theatre.
Are you a big Beatles fan?.. John or Paul? I am a big Beatles fan. And yes, I sit on the John side of the fence; but that is more because I include the totality of John and Paul’s solo work – John’s authenticity is very hard to beat. Now, if were just talking about the Beatles phase – all members of the fab four are important, I love them all. Favourite albums? Revolver, Rubber Soul, White Album.
What part does the music play in your production? There are three tracks from The Beatles in the show: In My Life, Across the Universe and Give Peace a Chance. As well as some original music developed by the cast. It’s not a musical though; we’re telling the story that John vents pain, releases emotion, and reflects through his music. He uses it as a canvas to allow himself to grow. There is very touching moments with John and his guitar in Bed Peace, as well as very exciting moments.
What drew you to the characters of John and Yoko and made you want to delve into the story behind the bed peace protest? Every John Lennon and Yoko Ono fan out there knows about this part of their life, but there is a limit as to what is available in a biographical sense. The ‘Year of Peace’ John and Yoko enacted proved to be a very fertile time for them. John changed dramatically. This section of their life saw miscarriage, divorce, marriage, end of the Beatles, cold turkey, huge protests and massive internal shifts for John, e.g. he lets go of being ‘The Walrus’ and accepts himself. What were John and Yoko like behind closed doors? What was their pillow talk like? What were they going through? What were the catalysts that made them decide to care about the world? I wanted to give fans time with John and Yoko that they have never seen before.
Why do you think the bed protest remains so iconic? Give Peace a Chance was picked up by thousands of protest movements worldwide since 69’, some earth shattering… These two celebrities for a period spent incredible money on peace advertisements, and gave a lot of time trying to do their part for the development of peace in the world. They were pioneers in spearheading awareness of issues globally. I can’t think of any celebrities of his calibre these days that have made that choice to the extent of the Lennons did. John was authentic, he was brash, he was powerful AND he was on the right side of history. His example is exactly what the world is craving today. Everyone is screaming for a little bit of authenticity. Fifty years on, anti-war activism in the West is in a complicated place – how does the play tackle the complexity of that history?
These days I see little anti-war activism. Identity, equality, gender and environment seem to be the main plights. I kind of feel, generally speaking, people have ‘given up’ on anti-war activism – there is a kind of exhaustion because everyday tragedies are perpetuated. And seemingly there is nothing we can do about it. So in Bed Peace I wanted to remind the people that there are very clever and positive ways to go about direct action. Maybe marching-type protests are less useful these days, that’s ok: it’s time to evolve. I don’t think we’ll see another anti-war million person march unless something very creative is proposed and it can get to the people, Maybe a new campaign for peace is in order…
How much political clout does art have nowadays? What art is available that is not political? We live in a very postmodern time – our elected politicians are expected to lie about everything – and nothing thus far has stopped it. It is a joke of a system. Like Banksy for instance, he manages to shred his million pound Sothebys piece, how controversial indeed! But no, it is Banksy’s work and stunts like this that is keeping places like Sotheby’s and their systems alive. On the whole, artists might pretend their work has political clout, but they’re mainly hypocrites and usually elitists just jumping on trends.
What is the most creative act of protest you have seen in recent years? Probably Otpor! and their work in the 90s… Putin made protests very dangerous for people, so the activists set up ‘demonstrations’ made of a lot of Lego men/women. So when the guards went down to arrest the Lego, journalists captured a lot of photos of guards laughing or guards seriously arresting Lego… the laugher humanises.
Social justice is one of Craft Theatre’s core tenets – how are the company’s collective principles embodied in its artistic practice? Authenticity, honesty, truth, laughter, courage. Freeing ourselves from the chains of capitalist endless growth expectations to develop creative outlets that can reinforce community between people.
What would you like audiences to feel and do after seeing BED PEACE: The Battle of Yohn and Joko? I want them to feel full of laughter and community- like all the audience are their brothers and sisters, even if it’s just for a moment… I want them to look at people they judge and themselves with a softer heart, but also with a courage to clean out their emotional cobwebs. Maybe that’s naïve… at the very least – I want people to feel as if they have hung out with the Lennon’s, and I want it to stick with them.
Finally, what is next in the pipeline for Craft Theatre? We’re pushing towards the West End. Every show I have done has taken us to the ‘next level’. Maybe a World Tour? I’m also going to be setting up a charity to develop London’s Fringe theatre.
By Emma Clarendon
Bed Peace:The Battle of Yohn and Joko continues to play at the Cockpit Theatre until the 28th April.