Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Stella Powell-Jones: Jules And Jim

By | Published on Friday 21 April 2023

I’d be really surprised if most of our readers hadn’t already heard of the source material for Jermyn Street’s upcoming staging of ‘Jules And Jim’, which begins a run at the venue this week.

It’s based on the book by Henri-Pierre Roché but many will, of course, have come into contact with the story via the new wave film adaptation by François Truffaut. 

This version has been adapted by acclaimed London-based playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, and is directed by Jermyn Street Artistic Director Stella Powell-Jones. I spoke to Stella to find out more about the play and the creative team behind it. 

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the plot of ‘Jules And Jim’? Who is it about and where does the narrative take us? 
SP-J: ‘Jules And Jim’ tells the story of three people: Kath, Jules and Jim. The trio meet in Paris in 1907. They’re coming of age in a strange, unsettled time. Against a backdrop of war, this trio dedicate their lives to love. This is a great adventure that takes place over three decades and roams all over Europe. 

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
SP-J: Love, war, friendship, art, freedom, joy.  What is it to live a life on your own terms? How do you go after joy? 

CM: How does the play compare to the novel, and of course the highly regarded film, in terms of its content? 
SP-J: I think a big difference from the film is that Kath gets to be her own person. They’re a true trio. Timberlake’s a writer of such martial clarity and precision, she’s distilled this sprawling novel into a lean, potent ninety minutes. The spirit of adventure remains but no word is superfluous . 

CM: What made you want to stage a version of this story? Is it as relevant to contemporary audiences as it was in the mid-Twentieth Century?
SP-J: Yes! Yesterday we were looking at newspapers that the actors will use in the play. It was striking to all of us how the headlines from 1914 read almost identically to the ones blaring at us. Love, and indeed war, are constants. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about Timberlake Wertenbaker, who adapted the script? 
SP-J:  Well on one hand Timberlake is obviously one of the living writers who’s had the most impact on British theatre. But I think talking about her stature in those terms sort of makes it about the past.

And the thing about Timberlake’s writing is that it’s electric NOW. Her writing disarms, reveals itself, surprises. We’ve been so lucky to have Timberlake in the room throughout.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast of the production?  
SP-J: Yes, the cast are Patricia Allison, Samuel Collings and Alex Mugnaioni. With only the actors on stage, and with the text being so important, it was crucial to have a cast who are storytellers. 

I couldn’t ask for three better co-explorers… They’re three very different performers but they have in common a quicksilver quality. It was a joy casting the show with Emily Jones. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about being AD of Jermyn Street Theatre and how you came to take this role? 
SP-J: I took over as AD with David Doyle as Executive Producer about six months ago. It’s been a wild, brain-expanding, thrilling six months. Everyone who knows David knows how lucky I am to get to work so closely with him.

Jermyn Street Theatre had been a home for me as a director and so it’s wonderful to now get to welcome some of the artists who inspire me into this very special theatre. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future – for JST and yourself? 
SP-J: For JST, I want more people to know we’re here. I want people to know that right here – in the heart of the West End – there’s a place putting on plays by some of our most exciting writers, where theatrical legends are working alongside the brightest emerging talents. And all at affordable prices.  

For myself, I’m very much at the beginning of my journey as an AD. On the one hand, I’m trying to enjoy that time rather than be impatient for the times when everything’s familiar and old-hat. And on the other, we have really big plans that I‘m impatient to share…

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SP-J: Well on the personal front, I’m directing Caryl Churchill’s first play ‘Owners’ this autumn.

But here at the theatre are just some of the things we have coming up: the world premiere of April De Angelis’ ‘Infamous’; and ‘Yours Unfaithfully’, a rare rediscovery of a thrilling play about open marriage in the 1930s brought to us from one of New York City’s most prestigious theatres, The Mint Theatre Co. 

We’re also celebrating Dame Siân Philips 90th birthday! And we’re about to announce this year’s cohort of Creative Associates: ten brilliant  emerging artists who will be resident with us for the year. 

Jules And Jim’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 24 Apr-27 May.  For more information and to book tickets see the venue website here.

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