After his success with the play Ida Rubinstein – The Final Act at The Playground Theatre in London, director Christian Holder has been asked back to stage Love & Destruction at the venue (25 to 29 May 2022), an evening of two contrasting halves, the first using piano music and poetry to celebrate the work of female Ukrainian artists, and the second offering a drama which questions the role of authoritarian male dictatorship. Here, Christian discusses this moving, contemporary evening at the theatre with My Theatre Mates.
The evening will open with original compositions by Ukrainian concert pianist Alla Sirenko, the only Ukrainian composer to have their work performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. These will be interwoven with readings by the actor Maryam D’Abo of compelling poems by Lesya Ukrainka and Lyuba Yakimchuk.
The second half is the world premiere of One Man, a play in one act by Peter Efthymiou starring Anthony Cozens, Wilf Scolding, Peter Tate and Joshua Ward. Christian Holder directs.
Christian Holder has had several theatrical careers, from a child actor and dancer in London, to a principal dancer with The Joffrey Ballet in New York, to costume designer and choreographer, and most recently as a solo cabaret vocalist. Christian danced with the Joffrey Ballet for 13 years before transferring his talents to costume design and choreography. He also taught ballet in several Manhattan studios and for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Christian designed stage wardrobe for Tina Turner from 1973 to 1984, as well as costumes for ballets choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, and companies in the US and France. For The Playground Theatre Christian has written and directed Ida Rubinstein – The Final Act with his collaborator Naomi Sorkin.
Thanks to the show’s association with The Ukrainian Cultural Association in the UK (UCA-UK), a donation from each ticket sold for Love & Destruction will support the British Red Cross Appeal in purchasing a second ambulance for children in the Ukraine.
How did you get involved with Love & Destruction at The Playground Theatre?
Peter Tate [The Playground Theatre’s co-artistic director] invited me to direct after having seen my work for Ida Rubinstein – The Final Act last year. He felt that the play he had written should have a movement quality that my background could bring to the piece.
The evening has a topical and fascinating premise, celebrating the work of female Ukrainian artists through piano music and poetry and questioning the role of authoritarian male dictatorship through drama. Can you tell us more about how you approached each part separately and as a whole?
Naturally, I was deeply moved and outraged by the events in Ukraine as they unfolded so wantonly and callously. When I was asked to participate in putting together an evening that would in some way offer support for the plight of the Ukrainian people, I leapt at the chance.
The play One Man was an arresting and potent piece of writing – yet deceptively simple. So, it was a matter of living with it, night and day, on my laptop, so that my mind could begin to envisage all the possibilities that emerged from my imagination.
Simultaneously, the first half of the evening slowly came into focus. I knew that I wanted to use poetry by Ukrainian women. Initially it was mostly about finding a way to celebrate female voices, since One Man is relentlessly masculine. The four protagonists are male.
What was the process like in the rehearsal room with the different casts and creatives?
Wonderful! Getting to know the actors and begin work as a “family”. It was a little more circuitous to find the right pianist and actress. I couldn’t be happier with the way things evolved. I have had the pleasure of working with a fantastic group of players!
What you do think the audience will learn from the musical and dramatic aspects of the evening and how those play for and against each other?
The music pours out of the extraordinary soul of the pianist, Alla Sirenko, and this is augmented by the seasoned and august presence and voice of Maryam d’Abo. This section embraces the viewer and takes them on an emotional journey of music and voice.
The play for the four men is harsh an abrasive, but with a spiritual undercurrent and ending that will leave the audience with a sense of hope.
In the context of all that is happening in the Ukraine, it must have incredibly emotional to work on this project.
Yes. It has been emotional, but it is also rewarding to be able to make an artistic statement that is born of pain and devastation, and yet is a testament to the human spirit.
What is it like to be back at The Playground Theatre and to be working with Peter Tate in his role at the venue but also as an actor?
It’s terrific to be back at the Playground. I didn’t know, when Peter and his wife, Naomi, first took me to see the space, that it would develop into this vibrant centre for the arts. It is awe-inspiring to see how it has blossomed in a relatively short period of time.
You have worked in several different roles in the theatre, from actor and dancer to costume designer, choreographer and director. How do you think that informs the way you approach staging a production?
I see it all as an extension of myself. It’s all connected. Acting, movement, music – it is all about communication. Spiritual communication.
In a nutshell, why should audiences see Love & Destruction?
The evening will hopefully shine a spotlight on the human spirit; all the good, and all the bad. Man’s inhumanity to man. Ultimately, nevertheless, there is a spiritual connection that – if we let it – will serve to buoy us all through the darkest instances of our time on this planet. To let us sense that “winter is always followed by spring”.