French writer-director Juliette Quenin launches new production company Five Minutes Before the Miracle with the premiere of her play Little Wing at Brockley Jack Theatre in April. In the first of a two-part interview, she tells us about her influences, mission and cultural differences. Time to get booking!
Little Wing has a strictly limited season at London’s Brockley Jack Theatre, running from 7 to 18 April 2020, with a press night on Thursday 9 April.
After six years in London, Gil returns to the family flat in New York in order to help his younger brother Nils, a ballet dancer, get back on his feet after a long illness.
Gil who has a passion for holistic treatments immediately puts his brother on a demanding health regime. Nils complies at first, but progressively Gil’s ambivalent attitude gives rise to doubts and questioning. Why is Gil coming back after all these years? For all the warm welcomes and fond memories of their childhood, does something more sinister lurk beneath?
With depth, tenderness and humour, Little Wing explores the matrix of brotherhood, intimacy and ingrained role-playing. The three-hander, written and directed by Juliette Quenin, is the inaugural stage production from Quenin’s company Five Minutes before the Miracle.
Talking to… Juliette Quenin
Juliette Quenin trained and worked in Paris as an actress, singer and director. In March 2008, she took a leap of faith and moved to London. Since then, Juliette has worked as Stage Manager and Assistant Director for numerous fringe productions. As a playwright, she now has eight plays and has launched the company Five Minutes Before the Miracle to produce her own work.
Why did you take a “leap of faith” to move to London?
I arrived in London at the very start of the financial crisis in 2008. Just a couple of months before that, the international press was branding London “The new Eldorado”, the land of all opportunities, ironically enough! I had no plans and no place to stay and my little savings very quickly melted.
At first, I was living in a hostel in Notting Hill (bad food, bugs … a nightmare!). I started applying for theatre jobs. The only ones I could get were unpaid, of course. I remember at one point I was doing a part-time, very demanding internship at the Arcola during the day, in the evening I was stage managing at the Finborough, and the rest of the time I was working two jobs on Portobello Road. I had my moments of huge despair, I must say. But I had also faith. I really wanted this.
I had lived in several countries as a child, but as an adult, that was my once in a lifetime move and I didn’t want to blow it. In addition, I have a love for this city! I don’t know where it’s coming from, but here in London, I’m in my natural element, much more than anywhere else on the planet. And London, as everybody knows, is (with New York) the promised land of Theatre!
How does theatre differ here than in your native France?
It’s difficult to say as I have now more experience here than in France. I’d say, in France there are a lot of companies, big and small, very dedicated to their creative mission, producing one or two shows a year, rehearsing forever (a dream!) and touring a lot in subsidised regional theatres. They can achieve that because they receive lots of governmental support and grants.
And there is a benefit system in France that is quite friendly (to say the least) to unemployed creatives. So, quite a lot of work that gets produced is very inventive and often beautiful. I’m thinking about the work of people like Olivier Py, Ariane Mnouchkine, Philippe Quesnes and also Patrice Chereau, who unfortunately recently died.
And French tend to go to the theatre in the same way they go to the cinema. It’s like going to church! It’s a spiritual experience and an art in itself.
In England, it’s all more democratic, mainstream, quick (maybe because of lack of funding) and immediate. The themes developed in plays tend to be more socially and politically orientated. There is a culture here, that doesn’t really exist in France, and that’s the culture of fringe and pub theatres that nurture and support a lot of young talents.
I think nothing much has changed on both sides of the Channel since Shakespeare and Moliere in terms of how theatre is perceived by French and English audiences. Personally, I love both.
What’s your mission for Five Minutes Before the Miracle?
Initially, I created Five Minutes Before the Miracle with a real longing for those theatre companies I mentioned above. I wanted to emulate their way of working. But that takes an infrastructure I’ve yet to develop. So, for now, my primary ambition is to produce good work with people I admire and respect, hoping to create long-term relationships with them. I have now written eight full-length plays, so the first mission is to be able to produce those plays myself.
Down the line, I’d like to direct plays or adapt films that I really adore. Some movies are very theatrical in my opinion, like Una Giornata Particolare (A Special Day), an Italian movie from Ettore Scola, with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, that I can really picture on stage.
And who knows, one day, like-minded people might come to us with fantastic projects and we’ll be able to help them.
Which other playwrights have most influenced you?
I’m a lover of words and beautifully crafted sentences. I love to hear poetry in dialogue. That really turns me on and can move me to tears. For that reason, my favourite playwrights are Shakespeare, Edmond Rostand (Cyrano de Bergerac) and Jean Cocteau. From the new generation of playwrights, I particularly like the work of Jez Butterworth as he’s transforming “ordinary” situations in very lyrical ones. I will add Arthur Miller for his genius at crafting incredible stories, again from very ordinary situations.
But I also love work that is far less dialogue-orientated, and much more visual and physical like the shows of insanely talented James Thierree (grandson of Charlie Chaplin), those of 1927 Productions and also the work of Robert Wilson. I had the chance to see Wilson’s last show in Amsterdam last summer, Mary Said What She Said with Isabelle Huppert, and it completely transcending.
Little Wing runs from 7 to 18 April 2020 at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £13-16. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!