Soon to be at White Bear Theatre, a new revival of Candlesticks will be playing- a play still as relevant after three decades since it was first shown. When things get complicated between two lifelong neighbouring families, their friendships seems to crumble as change pulls them away from their past lives. Will their beliefs ever allow for companionship to remain?
Jenny Eastop is directing this production, and has kindly told us a bit more about it.
Please can you tell us a bit about this project, Candlesticks?
Candlesticks was one of three plays that writer Deborah Freeman was awarded an Arts Council writing bursary for in 1993 and it had several productions around then. Returning to it in 2022, it’s clear that not only has it not dated, but it deals with ideas that are even more relevant now. It’s about two families, lifetime neighbours, who constantly try to come together and be friends/lovers/a support to each other but who find themselves driven apart by the very things that should bring them together.
How does it strive to be controversial and topical, yet a charming watch?
The play deals with big issues and ideas – it’s about people trying to find meaning in life and root themselves in something that really matters to them but which drives them away from those they should be closest to. But the play also deals with relationships – mother and child, childhood sweethearts, families. At its heart, it’s about four perfectly ordinary, decent people who love each other and are just trying to get on with their lives and with each other.
How is the reflection of clashing cultural ideas relevant to today's society, as well as 30 years ago when it was first performed?
It’s an issue that is never going to go away, the idea that those things that should bring us together are also the very things that can drive us apart. People find meaning and comfort in being part of a group, a community, by sharing deeply held beliefs and, as the world gets bigger and we get more spread out, the need to bond gets stronger. But the more we bond with our community, the more alien those outside it can seem. What could demonstrate more clearly the quintessential Christianity of Great Britain than the ceremony of recent days? Yet who doesn't also believe, these days, in a diverse society in which all groups live freely, with their beliefs, cultures - and histories? But if you switch on the news any day then people across the world are challenging other people's belief. It's a significant part of what the world has to worry about.
Of what importance is sharing the changes in beliefs within families over generations, and discussing Jewish heritage in the show?
If beliefs in families change over time and everyone's happy with how the changes come about, there isn't much drama in the process. But sometimes a person in a family who has a change of belief can cause, deliberately or not, confusion, disappointment - even anger and rejection. I think it’s vital for us all to understand where our need to be a part of something comes from and why our connection with our past gives us grounding. It’s such a fundamental issue, the shifting sense of belonging and assimilation that comes with changing times, and in this modern age our sense of history is disappearing. To know our past and connect with our own personal history is becoming even more important.
Two of the characters are Jewish, and a third had a Jewish father. This matters to each of them. Jewish identity and practice is part of the plot. But definitely not the whole plot. Overall, Candlesticks is a play 'about people'.
How was the process of directing the piece, and what preparation did you do for this?
I’ve known this play for a long time but came back to it to direct it earlier this year. I’ve worked closely with the writer over that time to get to know the characters and explore the script in detail until I really got under the skin of the characters and the piece. It’s been great through the rehearsal process, sharing experiences and ideas with the cast, the writer Deborah and our Assistant Director Jonathan, as well as having conversations with friends and local synagogues to connect as fully as I could. The company were also delighted to be invited to writer Deborah and husband Jeff’s Shabbat dinner during rehearsals - a profound and moving experience that really helped my understanding.
Without spoilers, is there a passage of the play that you particularly enjoyed working on?
It’s been a real joy to work on this multi-layered play as it’s provoked so much detailed exploration and really interesting discussion. But it’s a funny and ironically witty script as well so there’s real joy in finding that humour. I think I’m finding most pleasure working on the scenes with the two youngsters, Jenny and Ian, and charting their changing relationship because they’re the ones who should have most hope for the future but who are the ones creating the chaos.
What would you anticipate the audience to be thinking about after seeing this production?
I can see it will provoke discussion and possibly argument as the audience leave. Some people will think one thing, others another. Some won't see it as a play about religions, candlesticks, or even cultures – but just a play about people who care about each other and are struggling to understand. Whatever they’re thinking I hope they’ll be realising the profound need for us all to come together and stop arguing.
Many thanks to Jenny for discussing her current play, and best of luck for the upcoming run!
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Additional thanks to Matthew Parker for coordinating this interview.