Caro Meets Theatre

Jonathon Crewe and Wan Yuan Teo: Under The Radar

By | Published on Friday 11 March 2022

Coming up this week at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre is the opening of ‘Under The Radar’, a play by writer and filmmaker Jonathon Crewe, the idea for which was sparked by the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall in 2017, who was killed by Danish entrepreneur Peter Madsen after he invited her to interview him on his submarine.

The play explores the issues of misogyny, consent, unconscious bias and violence and – when first staged back in 2019 – earned highly positive critical responses for both its performers and behind the scenes creatives. And now it’s back in 2021 for a longer run. 

To find out more about the play and the talent behind it, I spoke to writer and director Jonathon Crewe and producer Wan Yuan Teo. 

CM: Can you start by telling us something of the premise of the play – who is it about and where does the narrative take us?
JC: The play is a dark comedy that follows a quick-witted female journalist who’s out to write a career-making article on a self-made inventor and his private submarine – the world’s largest. It all starts at a small Danish harbour before the two set sail on a two day journey as part of the interview.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
JC: The play is about unconscious bias and how it can manifest in misogyny. It looks at gender, consent, privilege and violence, and how connected they are to our cultures and traditions.

CM: What was the inspiration for the play? What made you want to create a work with this topic and themes?
JC: I wrote the play after reading about the tragic murder of Kim Wall by Peter Madsen. In fact I used the scenario, though importantly not the actual people involved, as the starting point for writing.

However, it was less so the crime itself that drove me to write the play, but the discussions and debates that came out of it – namely, the question which repeatedly came up: why did she go on that boat with a strange man? The answer, of course, was it was her job and why shouldn’t she? Would the same question be asked if the victim was a man?

As we see far too often, the blame was indirectly, and sometimes directly, pinned on the victim. The suggestion being that women should change their behaviour rather than men, but is that a culture we want to live in? Perhaps we need to look at ourselves and try and change the culture that enables such awful things to happen in the first place.  

CM: Does the play have a specific message? Who are you trying to reach?
JC: Ultimately, the play is trying to reach men. It’s trying to highlight that derogatory micro-aggressions towards women – no matter how small – lie on the same spectrum as gender-based violence. If you do it, or you let it go when your mates do it, you are complicit in a culture that enables a massively disproportionate amount of violence against women.

Of course, I don’t believe anyone is coming out of the play on the side of the antagonist, but if the men in the audience recognise some of the behaviours, perhaps ones they have seen or even caught themselves doing, it might get them thinking that culture only changes when we change ourselves as part of society.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast and creatives involved in bringing the show to the stage?
JC+WT: We’ve got a small, but amazing team involved. The play is a two-hander and the leads are played by Eleanor Hill and Nicholas Anscombe.

Eleanor is a writer and actor and recently launched her incredible female-led web series, ‘Sadvents’, with a full live show coming very soon – a must watch. Nicholas is an actor and puppeteer with credits on Sky, BBC and on the upcoming ‘Sandman’ series on Netflix – do tune in.

The rest of our creative team is made up of recent graduates, as we’re committed to giving younger people a chance to get paid work in theatre – especially after the past two years.

We have Jaymie Quin-Stewart, an actor and theatre maker, backstage – and with a small cameo; Fintan Davies is our lighting and sound technician; George Pallister did the sound design; and Yasmine Jobrani has been doing a fantastic job on our social media and PR.

CM: Can you tell us about the post-show events taking place?
JC+WT: We did a pilot run of the play in 2019, which sparked so much conversation in the lobby after the performances that we really wanted to formalise this and bring the debate to the audience. We’ve also invited lots of university groups along to these nights as it’s really important to get a younger audience talking about these subjects.

Basically, each Wednesday, the show will be followed by events featuring a panel of thought leaders discussing different themes related to the play. The panels are being supported by the Culture Capital Exchange and the University Of West London.

On 16 Mar we will discuss ‘Gender, Power, Consent And Violence’ with Professor Helen Hester, author of ‘Xenofeminism’; Jess Leigh, a campaigner at Our Streets Now; and Dr Marcus Nicholls, a lecturer in media.

On 23 Mar the topic is ‘Media Ethics: Reporting On Violence’ with Nina de Ayala Parker, a writer and campaigner; Dr Sumaya Al Nahed, a senior lecturer in journalism; and Professor Garin Dowd.

And on 30 Mar we will discuss ‘Creative Writing, Narrative And Violence’. Jonathon will join that discussion along with playwright Dr Sarah Grochala and Professor Jeremy Strong.

CM: Can we talk about you now, Jonathon? How did you come to be working in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do? 
JC: I’ve always been a writer in one way or another, right from the stories and songs I used to write as a kid. I came from a very rural background where the nearest cinema was about 30 miles away and the nearest theatre even further – neither accessible without a car. So when I moved to London, I didn’t really have any expectations on how to work in the arts. So, I just did it.

I started making films and building a network on the back of those projects. It started with shorts and I’ve worked up to two micro-budget features. But writing has always been my central passion and I’ve written across radio and, of course, for theatre too. I find that the story sometimes dictates the medium. If it’s a good story, you’ll always find a home for it. I’ve certainly found a home in stories.

CM: What have been the best bits of your career so far? 
JC: From a writer’s perspective, it’s definitely ‘Under The Radar’. When I’d finished the first draft and re-read it, I knew it was the best thing I’d written. As a writer, I think you always have to be your own biggest fan and your own worst critic. One encourages the artist and the other keeps you grounded in the craft.

I’m always striving for that balance and I think I hit it with this play. Although, ask me about my best project when I’m on the next one and I’ll probably tell you it’s that – you have to love what you’re doing right now. I also had a great moment when a student of mine came to watch a play and afterwards told me that it was much better than she expected. Praise indeed!

From a director’s point of view, one of the best moments was calling ‘that’s a wrap’ on my first feature film, ‘face2face’. It had been a monumental effort to get it off the ground and it stalled on so many occasions. So it was such an amazing relief to get it in the can.

The final scene featured the entire cast and about 50 supporting actors, so it was really nice to share that moment with the cast and crew. It took almost another three years to get it through post, so the next ‘best’ moment came when we were rewarded with a few nominations and a couple of awards. The hard work and team effort paid off.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
JC: I’d love to adapt this play into a feature film. A few people had asked me about doing it, but I wasn’t sure how to. Then I watched ‘The Lighthouse’ and it all became clear. And after that, I want to keep writing… and rewriting.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? What projects do you have in the pipeline? 
JC+WT: We recently launched a mini-feature film we made during lockdown. We did it just the two of us – acting and crewing – something to stave off the boredom. It’s an homage to neo-noir mysteries, but all contained within the confines of a single apartment.

So far we’ve had an official selection in the LA Neo Noir film festival and Wan won a best supporting actor award. So it turned out a lot better than we expected. So once ‘Under the Radar’ is out of the way, we’d like to get back to pushing ‘Last Night, Locked In…’

JC: I’m also currently working on a new play. It’s a period drama about an ordnance survey cartographer, but I’m still mapping it out at the moment!

‘Under The Radar’ is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 15 Mar-2 Apr. For more information and to book tickets see the venue website here.

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