Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Max Kinnings: "Every writing project is different. Everything I write, either singly or with others, takes on a style and approach all of its own. Wireless Operator is no exception."
WIRELESS OPERATOR | Pleasance Courtyard (Below)
31st July – 26th August (not 12th), 12:40 | TICKETS
Wireless Operator is the alarming new production which reveals the impact on the airmen who survived, and the lifelong legacy felt by their families.
Hi Bob & Max thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
It's all good thank you. We're very busy as we're in the last few weeks of preparation prior to Edinburgh.
How does it feel to be bringing Wireless Operator to Edinburgh Fringe?
It's very exciting to be working in such a febrile creative environment with a talented team of creative producers and artists who are doing it for all the right reasons. And now we have the extraordinary Thomas Dennis to play our lead. We can’t wait!
Are there any nerves ahead of your festival run?
Of course, we have no way of knowing how it's going to be received. But we are so invested in the story and the message of the play that we feel sure it will evoke strong emotions.
Sometimes a project takes on a life of its own. This is one of them. It feels as though it has taken on its own momentum and is actually taking us to Edinburgh, not the other way around.
Did you know much about wireless operators before you started writing your play?
Not a lot. Bob’s father was a Wireless Operator in Lancasters during the war which provided the inspiration but a lot of research was necessary to piece it together.
Can you tell me a little bit about Wireless Operator, what can we expect?
Chronicling eight and a half intense hours in a Lancaster bomber on one mission in 1945, a crew of seven young men fly the most sophisticated warplane ever built. Filtered through the perception of one man - John, the wireless operator - they fight through a maelstrom of violence, horror and fear to drop bombs, kill people, then try against all the odds to survive, to get home, and then live with their consciences.
2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2 and the indiscriminate blanket bombing of cities. It will be a time of reflection and remembrance, but also a time to reconsider the ethics of the decisions taken throughout the war by all sides, exemplified by the bombing of Dresden. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the slaughter or the extraordinary and barbaric actions of ordinary people at the behest of their leaders. It is the story of lost innocence and an appalling episode in history.
"Personally, it’s always been about exploring an idea, the genre and format come later."
What was the inspiration behind Wireless Operator?
Bob: my father, Wireless Operator sergeant JJ Baldwin's short story, One Plus Five More To Go was the inspiration. In that, I could see the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality, and how at the centre of the horror, it is fought by ordinary good people who then have to live with the memory. The play has grown out of Bob's curiosity to know what his mild-mannered loving and utterly passive father had to reconcile himself with.
The raids were designed to overwhelm the old medieval wooden cities with a firestorm, leaving no chance of escape. It’s estimated that in Hamburg, more people, civilians mostly, women children old men and refugees were burnt alive in one night than died in Nagasaki.
This story is a portrait of an honourable young man acting in good faith, carrying out the orders of superiors that were truly appalling who is then condemned to live in an ocean of deeply repressed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which, however, hidden, has untold consequences that echo down the generations.
How soon after you discovered your father's RAF logbooks did you realise you wanted to create a show around this story?
Bob: a long time. It wasn’t until my own children had grown up a bit could I understand what being a Dad means and how you want to protect them from the dark side for as long as possible. On reflection, I respect my father all the more for keeping faith in the human spirit that he had witnessed at its very worst and for the strength it must have taken to maintain that faith without religion.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this new show to life?
Any show becomes a labour of love...especially if you are depending on goodwill and crowdfunding to get you there. We are still short! If anyone reading this feels able to help…..please HELP !
As co-writer and director is it hard to keep these two roles separate?
Bob: No, it’s all part of the same process. Directing is just a different sort of writing; there is a tyranny to the ‘word’, (as exemplified by the awful state of TV, but don’t get me started on that). Play and drama writing is a blueprint for a visual and aural experience not an end in itself. Directing means I can finish the job. If I could act I’d be doing that too so be thankful I know my limits… A different director would bring something new and I'd be interested to see that but for its first outing, I need to bring it to life myself.
Max: I think it's impossible for a writer/director to keep the two roles separate. But working with a co-writer who is also the director of a project is a fascinating experience as you can witness first hand how the words on the page translate directly into the world of the drama.
Describe Wireless Operator in 3 words?
War never wins.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Bob: Yes, but I’m interested in all mechanisms of expression, film, painting, carpentry, photography as well as writing and theatre, I make things, all sorts of things, theatre is another canvass in the process of exploring an idea.
Max: as a writer, I like to explore a variety of media and while I have more experience in writing novels and screenplays, writing for the theatre is a fascinating challenge. Ultimately, whatever the medium or genre, the story and the characters are what count and how your audience reacts to them.
What has the process been like working together on this play?
Bob: Working with Max has been brilliant, he brings experience and insight that’s hard to buy. His commitment to the story has been 100%. Max lives in Oxford and I'm in London (mostly), but thanks to Skype wherever we were, we were able to schedule regular sessions that didn’t involve the M40. Occasionally we would digress into reminiscences about our mutual friend Rik Mayall and end up laughing so hard it distracted us from the job in hand. Without wanting to sound mawkish, our mutual sense of loss (we were together and working with him when he died) has probably informed the play.
Max: Bob and I have been friends for a number of years and we've worked together before on other projects, most notably - as Bob says - with Rik. Our relaxed familiarity when we write ensures we are unafraid to challenge and test each other's ideas within a very nurturing and creative environment. In that sense, it is a truly collaborative partnership and a real pleasure.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
Bob: That is an interesting question, and there is no simple answer. Personally, it’s always been about exploring an idea, the genre and format come later. It doesn’t always work, it might still be there at the end, or transformed into something else which is fine. If the idea isn't solid in the beginning it doesn’t survive and you have to let it go. It also depends on whom I'm working with. I enjoy the process of collaboration as long as I control that collaboration! That sounds like an oxymoron but I have been fortunate to work with some extraordinary artists and I've learnt that you can’t, indeed mustn't control everything, you have to let others inform the idea and be prepared to be surprised and enjoy and exploit what emerges.
Max: Every writing project is different. Everything I write, either singly or with others, takes on a style and approach all of its own. Wireless Operator is no exception.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
Bob: It doesn’t matter what you don’t know, you will learn. Stop pissing about, get on with it…
Max: To write something good, first you write something bad. Then fix it.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
Bob: Just start and then talk to people. It's a lonely process but at the same time simply not possible to do on your own. So enjoy the process of sharing because that is what it is all about and be prepared to change your mind, don’t get married to an idea so that it stands in the way. Be the artist you know you are, not what you want to be or what ‘they’ think you should be.
Max: Try not to drink too much. Get plenty of sleep. Keep going.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
Bob: That good people can find themselves doing grotesque things. I find myself looking at the barrel bombs being dropped on Aleppo and apart from the outrageous injustice I feel for those on the receiving end, I wonder about the poor souls pushing the bombs out of the door. They too are victims of a deep betrayal of the human spirit.