You can find out more information and book tickets to The Screwtape Letters here, playing at the Seymour Centre 22 November - 10 December.
Emily: How would you explain to someone what The Screwtape Letters is, to someone who doesn’t know?
George: Two demons in hell, talk to their associate on earth to coax a human into hell.
Emily: I read the book last week and I was telling some of my friends about it who aren’t Christian and I was saying, “it’s a Christian book, but it’s actually cool!”
George: It’s actually a cool Christian book! You might actually like it! (laughs)
Emily: So you did this show last year and had a sell out season – was it something that appealed to mostly Christian communities or was it something that drew in a diverse group of people?
Yannick: It was almost exclusively Christian communities last year, which is no bad thing obviously, when you’re trying to sell a show you want as many people as possible to come and see it. Last year we don’t really know what happened, a Facebook event we had went from inviting a handful of friends to having 2000 people invited. Tickets sold out pretty quickly, we then extended the season to put on a few more shows and then those tickets sold out in 45 minutes, which is really amazing. This year we did want to have more of a wider appeal. I think even if you’re not Christian, even if you think Christianity is a load of mythical rubbish, there is something about CS Lewis’ writing that takes you on such a logical progression, you can’t fault his arguments in the art of supporting what he believes in. So even if you take it as an exercise in understanding another worldview, it’s probably the best way to understand what Christianity is actually about…and also the things that it isn’t about. People often assume things about Christianity – that it’s about how good you are, how much you deny yourself – giving you a meritocracy basically for getting into heaven. CS Lewis in a really clever way rebuffs all of those myths and it paints a really true picture.
George: It’s just two people reading the book on stage (laughs). Hailey’s done a brilliant job adapting the book for theatre, it’s become something that’s really interactive. I guess it’s the shift from past tense to the demons doing these things right now.
Yannick: Obviously in the adaptation you do have to be very faithful to the original text. As anyone who loves the book would say, you don’t want too much of it changed or messed around with. So in many places it does take the form of a letter being dictated. But Hailey has adapted it so well and is an expert in direction, George has a great physical ability to get inside characters, it takes what could be really heavy, dense, theo-philosophical writing and turns it into something that applies and shines a light on normal human behaviours in an interactive way.
Emily: CS Lewis does something special, like with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - he has crafted iconic texts that anyone can get on board with. What do you think that an audience will take away from seeing the show, regardless of their worldview?
Yannick: Whether you’re a Christian or not, what you believe, what you put your faith in, what you trust – whether it’s things in the world, whether it’s yourself, whether it’s what other people think about you - these are things that every person struggles with on a day-to-day basis. The only difference is that Christians believe they have found an answer, which has been graciously given to them by God. I think my hope is – because I’ve got a lot of friends coming to see it who don’t hold the same worldview as I do, my hope is that it will just start conversations. The world is going through big changing times at the moment with things happening in the UK and the US, and lots of people have said to me, this just doesn’t make any sense – the world isn’t going in the direction that I hoped it was going in. The Screwtape Letters doesn’t answer all of those questions, but at least it starts a slightly different conversation – who is pulling the strings? Does it really matter? Do I need to be conscious about the way I behave and the things I put my faith in? It’s awesome the way that CS Lewis and Hailey’s adaptation has brought the big ideas into a theatre space. A theatre space is a really neutral space. You can come and hear something, and you can leave and go – that was a load of rubbish, I don’t believe any of that, and not feel like people were trying to proselytise (religious people attempting to convert people to their belief). You can take it on board, and let it mull over, or you can reject it. That’s your choice.
Emily: I think for me during all this Trump business, and having plenty of political conversations with people that have largely felt like a waste of energy, I’ve had a massive realisation that art is one of the few ways that we can actually engage with people properly, without people propping up defence mechanisms or worrying about appearing politically aware and so on. It’s one of the last spaces where we can actually communicate openly with each other I think.
Yannick: First things first, I think every job and opportunity has merit. A decision to live faithfully, honouring what you believe, as well as using your talents in this world is a question for every individual. Hailey and I set up Clock & Spiel Productions as a vehicle for Screwtape, but also there are various things we’d like to do next year that are just bubbling away in the pipeline. When we thought about whether we’d like to put on exclusively Christian work, I don’t think that we do. Sometimes you will reflect the world back to itself – and there’s a lot of theatre I see that reflects the world back, but there is no hope or joy, that’s the way it is. It’s a real bleak reflection. Our hope would be to stage work and film work that reflects the world back to itself in light of a true hope. It doesn’t have to have a particularly ‘Christian’ message. Other than that, I’m just happy to be a part of projects with people being honest and faithful to what I believe, but as long as I can see some sort of positive outworking of the story in people’s lives, I’m always willing to be a part of it. Also just being a part of a creative team, I think there’s a real joy in using the gifts you’ve been given in whatever situation.
George: I guess everyone you meet in the industry has some sort of worldview, and that’s going to shape what they choose to do. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t have a preference. For me, in relation to my Christian worldview, I think I ask whether the project has a good moral to the story – will the project at the end make me feel worse about myself or worse about the world? I want a project to have soul and passion behind it. I don’t consciously think ‘does this story align itself with the bible?’ I just find if I really like something, I tend to do it. Art is art.
Emily: I did a play earlier this year working from the premise that everyone has rejected the notion of ‘God’ and is now searching for something to fill the hole left in people’s lives that ‘God’ used to fill. Obviously that’s not biblical, whatsoever – but it was fascinating. It made people really think and so I had no qualms being a part of it.
Emily: Just to let you know George, I love The Family Law – I’m so excited it’s coming back for another season.
George: Thank you! I actually wrapped last Thursday.
Emily: Is the second season a continuation of Benjamin Law’s memoirs?
George: It’s actually gone on a bit of a tangent – it still has aspects of his life in it, but I think it’s taken a slightly different path. The original was very much true to his memoirs, and while the second season still has the soul of that, a lot of the stories didn’t actually happen.
Emily: I love your mum on the show, Jenny.
Yannick: She’s hilarious.
George: The actor who plays her, Fiona Choi, she’s actually up for an AACTA award! She just deserves every bit of it, she’s such a lovely person. Actually everyone involved with the production are amazing – you leave work thinking, ‘did I actually work today? Does this count as work? I feel so happy now!’
Emily: Yannick what else are you involved with in the foreseeable future?
Yannick: There are some projects that Hailey and I are involved with, with Clock & Spiel – they’re not really secret, they’re just not confirmed yet. Our hope is to potentially retour this show next year, depending on how this works out.
Emily: Because you’re taking the show this time also to Melbourne and Canberra, as well as Sydney.
Yannick: Yes, so the other centres would be Perth, Brisbane, and possibly Auckland. It depends on how this goes and availabilities and interests. Personally, I’ve got some projects in the works, including a one-man show. I think once this is out of the way I’ll be able to think properly about it!
Book your tickets to see The Screwtape Letters now - showing at the Seymour Centre 22 November - 10 December.