Following a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe last year, VALIANT is runs until 31 July 2016 at The So & So Arts Club’s Women and War Festival. VALIANT chronicles a century of war as seen through the eyes of women from across the globe. Adapted for the stage by Lanna Joffrey from Sally Hayton-Keeva’s book of interviews Valiant Women in War and Exile, we meet thirteen women who have fought in, struggled through, and survived conflict. From victim to perpetrator to peacemaker, this critically acclaimed play takes verbatim interviews to create a compelling portrait of what women do in a time of war, and explores how it has shaped their lives and subsequently our own. Historically, war has spoken in a male voice; in VALIANT, women have their say. I caught up with Lanna to get to know more about the production.
Firstly, can you tell me about VALIANT? I’d love to know a bit more about how the piece transitioned from page to stage.
I read the book of verbatim interviews when I was 16 and it shifted my paradigm of war drastically. At that point, history classes painted war as a male narrative and here were 38 interviews debunking that point of view. It opened my eyes to a very different world. It wasn’t till I was in New York City after 9/11 feeling quite scared and helpless as someone from the Middle East that I went back to this book.
I had attended a Town Hall discussion at the Oxygen Network with Eve Ensler and Gloria Steinem. Listening to them unstuck me and I spoke to Eve about doing something to raise money for her women’s organisation, V-Day committed to ending global violence against women and girls. That something was creating “Valiant“. I reached out to Sally Hayton-Keeva and was given the rights to adapt the book into a verbatim play. Though I had no writing to do as I was solely using the interviews to create the play, choosing which interviews, how to shape them and choosing the order of them took a great deal of time. I also asked Sally to write additional bits regarding how she met each of the women, so I could incorporate that as well. The play has gone through numerous drafts as I received feedback from various readings and productions. Several of those performances have been dedicated to raising funds for several charity organisations such as V-Day, CodePink, the current Refugee Crisis and being featured in a United Nations women’s celebration, peace festivals and war veteran events.
VALIANT in action!
Having adapted the book, how do you find the experience of performing in the piece?
I really enjoy having lived with these women’s stories as an adapter reading and re-reading their interviews to shape them into a dramatic structure and then take part in the performance of it. It has helped me see where moments aren’t working as well as they could. Also throughout the productions, I have performed different interviews depending on the performance and have had the pleasure of performing 7 of the 13 interviews at one point or another.
What can the audience expect from their visit to see VALIANT?
I hope that they will hear something they have never heard before learning something they never knew. I hope as the book did for me, it will expand their knowledge in the narrative of war and see the wider landscape of everyone who is affected by it.
Is there a particular moment in the piece that you feel is poignant to you or stands out from the rest as you’ve progressed with the performances?
The Northern Irish women, Suzanne and Georgina always stand out as they experience such parallel moments while being on opposite sides of the conflict. Also Nazifa, the Afghani refugee stands out as we are currently faced with one of the biggest refugee crises in history. As an Iranian immigrant who fled her native country, I am well aware of needing to leave your home due to violence. Nazifa speaks beautifully about it.
Finally, what would you say to encourage potential audience members to come?
Many of these women had never shared their stories till Sally interviewed them. No one had bothered to ask. Sally says it best in the introduction of her book, “…war is not a foreign, distant event, neatly packaged by beginnings and endings, pertaining to one point in time. It is far too convenient to bracket wars in dates. Peace treaties may record the end of a war and attempt to guarantee war will not happen again, but they’re only meaningless pieces of paper. For, in fact we live in a world of continual war: 300 of them, at least, since the end of World War II…We are just beginning to find out what women have done, what women are capable of being and doing and thinking, and without that knowledge we are missing a crucial link in understanding not only the process of warfare but the human condition itself. War is timeless, and it may be something that is rooted in us, in what it is to be a human being. If that is so, and if we are to survive, it is important to investigate the parts played by women in war.” Our goal is to continue Sally’s legacy and never allow these women to fall into silence ever again.
Huge thanks to Lanna for her time, I’m sure you’ll agree that this piece is well worth a trip to see.