Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lauren Mooney: The Winston Machine

By | Published on Friday 21 January 2022

We’ve been fans of theatre producing company Kandinsky since it was founded back in around 2005 and we have followed its progression with an interested eye ever since.

So of course I pricked up my ears when I heard about their latest show, which opens at the New Diorama Theatre this week. The new play, ‘The Winston Machine’, explores our relationship with World War Two, contrasting past with present, and how we look to the future.

To find out more about it, I spoke to Kandinsky’s Lauren Mooney, producer and dramaturg.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘The Winston Machine’? What story does it tell?
LM: Essentially it’s about a young woman named Becky, living in a small British town, working in an office and living with her dad to save up for a house.

She finds all of this just a little unsatisfying, and a lot of her inner life revolves around her late grandmother Charlotte, who had a much more exciting job in WW2 and an exciting love-life – and actually a lot of the pleasure in Becky’s life comes from dressing up in Charlotte’s clothes and singing WW2 love songs at fetes.

The past is more real and more interesting to Becky than her present – but then something happens to drag her back into the present…

CM: Who are the central characters?
LM: Everything’s played by a company of three actors doing a lot of multi-roleing and working very hard. So Rachel Hosker plays Becky and doubles as Becky’s grandmother, Charlotte, in the 40s.

Nathaniel Christian plays Lewis, an old friend of Becky’s who comes back to town unexpectedly. He doubles as Bill, Charlotte’s lover.

And then Hamish MacDougall plays, sort of… everyone else in the world. But particularly Mark, Becky’s dad, who we see at several stages of his life – especially his childhood in the shadow of the war.

CM: What themes does the play explore? Would you say it’s political?
LM: For obvious reasons I don’t want to reveal too much, but the show is about our relationship to WW2 and the stories we inherit – from our families and from our culture.

It’s about how we reckon and live with the past, and how we imagine the future. Which makes it sound a bit po-faced, but it does have jokes in too.

I suppose it is political – we were interested partly in the way WW2 is used in the culture right now and by whom – a lot of the language around Brexit seemed to be very caught up in the war – but I hope that it feels nuanced and that we’re careful with all the characters too.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about how the show came together? How did the creative process work?
LM: Kandinsky makes work through a devising process. That means each show is made collaboratively, with an ensemble of performers and creatives – writers, designers, musicians etc.

The first step tends to be that, once we have an idea, James and I talk about it for a long time; we’ve run the company together for nearly seven years and the early stages always seem to involve a lot of long walks across south London.

As quickly as possible, we get into a room with performers and other creatives for a workshop – to find out what the theatre of the show might be. Then there are months of talking and admin and fundraising, followed by a rehearsal process with lots of performers and creatives in a room together.

This one’s been a little disrupted by the omicron explosion in London throughout December and early January – but it’s still a fun, very collaborative way to work, and the team on this show is brilliant.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team behind the show?
LM: We have music composed by Zac Gvirtzman, who we’ve worked with quite a lot before.

He’s often played live in our shows, which he isn’t doing this time, but he’s spent as much time as possible with us in rehearsals, and then Kieran Lucas, a sound designer, is arranging all of those compositions into a soundscape.

Naomi Kuyck-Cohen and Joshua Gadsby are co-designing the show, which means designing all visual elements – lighting, stage, costume – collaboratively.

We’ve got Segen Yosef as an associate director on the show – a great emerging director with a devising background, who we met while we were teaching at LAMDA and she was on the Directing MA.

And then me and James – I’m dramaturg and producer, and James is the director.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you end up working in the arts? Was this what you always wanted to be doing?
LM: No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until my mid-20s. I thought it might be something to do with theatre though. When I was much younger, I wanted to be an actor, but luckily – for me and the world! – I went off the idea in my late teens and did an English degree instead.

Then for years I worked in offices and did bits of badly paid or unpaid freelancing – writing about theatre, working as a script reader, little bits of assistant producing – and then James and I started working together and it sort of went from there.

I’m a freelancer now, and do lots of bits and pieces which are mainly a mix of writing, producing and dramaturgy – but I was 25 or 26 before I even heard of dramaturgy, let alone knew it was a job, so it’s been quite a slow journey.

CM: The industry has suffered a lot in recent times because of the pandemic – how did you and Kandinsky get through it?
LM: The problem for lots of theatres and companies was about income completely stopping while costs didn’t stop, but Kandinsky doesn’t have many regular costs – there’s no building to maintain and the company doesn’t pay anyone a salary – we earn money from working on projects.

So essentially we were able to put the company on pause, wait for things to open up again, and find other work for a while. Which was scary – but kind of a lucky position to be in.

And actually, the company didn’t totally stop either. We were lucky to be given a commission by a theatre in Vienna – Schauspielhaus Wien – just a month or so before the first lockdown – incredibly fortuitous timing, and our first European commission, which is a huge deal for us.

That gave us something to aim for, a sense that we wouldn’t just disappear, as did getting a commission from the New Diorama for this show.

That’s not only about financial survival – it’s a huge relief to feel that there are venues and audiences out there that care whether you weather the pandemic or not. It’s been an emotionally tough as well as financially scary period for freelance artists. We feel so lucky to have a company, and to have had these lifelines, even though it’s been scary and difficult.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
LM: What a huge question. Terrifying! I mean we’d just like to keep making shows really – I hope that’s not too boring to say.

Within that, we’d like to do more UK touring, to keep being able to pay our collaborators and ourselves, to work in Europe more, and maybe try out adapting something, which we’ve never done before and quite fancy having a crack at.

But really, for me, I’m not out for world domination – I just hope people keep wanting to see our work, that we keep getting to make new things, and to be able to pay my rent. If we’re still going in five years, I’ll be happy.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
LM: We’re going to Austria! Actually quite soon. Rehearsals for our next show start in Vienna not very long after this one opens – which doesn’t often happen and is a result of things being moved around because of the pandemic… it should cut down on the post-show blues anyway. It’s called SHTF and it’s about apocalypse anxieties and billionaire bunker owners.

‘The Winston Machine’ is on at the New Diorama Theatre from 25 Jan-19 Feb. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

LINKS: | | | |