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Playwright Rita Kalnejais: ‘Love bypasses our politics, it bypasses our judgement’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 May 2017

Bradley Hall and Hannah Millward inThis Beautiful Future. Picture: Richard Lakos

Bradley Hall and Hannah Millward inThis Beautiful Future. Picture: Richard Lakos

Archant

Rita Kalnejais set her romance, This Beautiful Future, now showing at The Yard Theatre, on the backdrop of Collaboration Horizontale

Star-crossed lovers – it’s a much used but well adored motif in drama and literature, and is the theme of a new play set during World War II.

“Everyone falls in love, everyone has that experience and you want to speak directly to the heart in theatre,” says playwright Rita Kalnejais. “There’s no point in being heady about it. But also we’re so innocent in love, and it bypasses our politics, it bypasses our judgement.”

Kalnejais’ play This Beautiful Future is running at Hackney Wick’s Yard Theatre. The Australian born Camden local decided to set her story on the backdrop of occupied France in the Second World War after visiting a French exhibition on hair and learned about Collaboration Horizontale.

“It was just an expression of this rage in the country because there hadn’t really been an active fight, there had just been an occupation, and even though there were lots of lives lost and an enormous amount of repression and a lot of bloodshed – things hadn’t been expressed as fighting. So they turned on the women who had been surviving the way that you do in wartime.”

As France was liberated, the blame fell to the 20,000 or so women who were seen to have collaborated with the occupying German soldiers, through romantic or sexual relationships or simply by working for them as cooks or cleaners.

“I saw this footage of a teenage girl who had fallen in love with a German soldier and had her head shaved,” says Kalnejais. “She had swastikas on her forehead and breasts and she was surrounded by her classmates and they’re doing the Nazi salute around her and she’s not looking guilty at all.

“There’s other footage of women poking their tongues out at the camera. These women are punks, they’re not buying into what’s being projected onto them and I found it such a powerful image.”

This Beautiful Future stars Hannah Millward and Bradley Hall as a French schoolgirl and teenage Nazi soldier who fall in love and are spending their last night together before all hell breaks loose. It is an expression of love combating extremism.

“It’s a really disturbing time of history, and contemporising it by the language doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s disturbing,” she says. “But I feel like you don’t distance yourself from the material if there’s a love story.”

Kalnejais began her theatre career as an actor but says that after a while she became “a bit shy to act”.

“I started to feel less connected and like I was holding back a bit with acting. I began to feel like something in my nature had changed.

“I just wrote my way out, I started writing and because I’d been acting for quite a few years I had relationships with all the different theatre companies, it gave me a place to start.”

This is Jay Miller’s fourth production as Artistic Director of The Yard, and is excited to be taking on a play “about tenderness in a time of violence. About love and war, times in which reality is so heightened it feels unreal. About two vulnerable people looking for safety. People who are falling in love, and falling through time.”

Since moving to England via Berlin, Kalnejais has established herself as an exciting playwright with a sold out debut of First Love is the Revolution at the Soho Theatre which was met with rave reviews.

“It’s a beautiful theatre culture here,” she says. “It’s very generous and exciting and I really love the emotional intelligence of the development process.”

This Beautiful Future runs at The Yard Theatre until May 20. theyardtheatre.co.uk

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