Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Katherine Moar: Farm Hall

By | Published on Friday 10 March 2023

I’ve always been a fan of historical stuff, whether it be entirely factual or fictionalised versions of the past.

So I was immediately interested when I heard about the new work ‘Farm Hall’, which is currently on at Jermyn Street Theatre. 

The play is based on real life events and focuses on the story of a group of scientists who worked on the Nazis’ project to create an atomic bomb, and who were then held captive in the British countryside. 

It’s the debut work from Katherine Moar. I spoke to her to find out more.  

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of the play? Who and what is it about? 
KM: Absolutely. Near the end of the Second World War, the Allies swept across Germany picking up the scientists who had worked on the Nazi project to build an atomic bomb.

These scientists were taken to England and locked in a stately home in the Cambridgeshire countryside for six months, totally shut off from the outside world. At first, they’re having a relatively nice time – they’re well taken care of by the British Secret Service – they read, and write, and play games.

But then the scientists find out that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on Japan and the news shatters them.  

CM: What themes are explored through the piece? 
KM: I think there’s quite a lot going on – each character has their own journey and ‘thing’ they are grappling with.

In the most general sense, I think it’s about the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, the loss of self-confidence and identity, and the ability – or inability – of an individual to influence history. 

CM: Can you tell us about how you came to be writing about this subject? What made you think it would work as a stage play? 
KM: The entire time the scientists were at Farm Hall the house was bugged and their conversations recorded by the British Secret Service.

They were trying to find out how close the German scientists had got to building an atomic bomb. The transcripts of these conversations were made public in the 1990s and the play is directly inspired by my reading of them. 

Really, the first thing I thought when I read the transcripts was that they would make a fantastic play. It’s such an exciting premise: these incredibly intelligent, bored, funny, morally compromised men are locked in a house for six months and forced to entertain themselves.

Then their peaceful co-existence is interrupted by the news that the unthinkable has happened – that the Americans have done what they couldn’t, that they’ve built and used an atomic bomb. 

CM: Have you been involved with the production of the play? 
KM: I have – I was there for the first week of rehearsals and have dropped in a few times since then. I mostly helped with providing a bit of historical context as the actors rehearsed and with answering any questions about the text. It’s been a brilliant process watching the characters come to life.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast and creative team involved in bringing it to the stage? 
KM: They’re just fantastic. I really can’t speak highly enough of them.

I worked on the text with Stephen Unwin, the director, quite intensely for several months in the lead-up to rehearsals and that process was invaluable. It’s such a better script thanks to his input. 

The cast are better than I could ever have imagined – this is very much an ensemble piece, but they’ve each made their characters so distinctive and emotionally true. They completely inhabit them.

The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound design – it all speaks for itself. Daisy, our stage manager, Millie, our assistant director – everyone is at the top of their game. 

CM: Can tell us a bit about you, now? This is your debut play, I think? Will you be writing more?
KM: It is my debut play. I would love to write more.

My creative valve felt a bit switched off for a while, especially during lockdown, but working on ‘Farm Hall’ again over the past few weeks has opened the floodgates once more.

It’s such a magical process. 

CM: Can you tell us about your work and career, and how you came to this point? 
KM: I’m a serial student! I did my undergrad in history at Edinburgh and a masters in history of science at Cambridge.

Then I did a couple of years in the workplace – at the Body Shop and Cambridge Arts Theatre in the fundraising department – and now I’m back at university.

I’m studying for a PhD at King’s College London and the Imperial War Museum looking at public perceptions of Winston Churchill. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
KM: I’d love to write more, whether that’s another play or some other medium. I love how collaborative plays are, so probably plays. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
KM: Back to Churchill and my PhD!

Farm Hall is on at Jermyn Street Theatre until 8 Apr. For more information and to book, see the venue website here.