Playwright Desiree Gezentsvey, author Christine Leunens, and Director Andrew Foster reflect on Desiree’s stage adaptation of Caging Skies:
Desiree: When I met Christine two years ago, she gave me a copy of Caging Skies and I was instantly hooked. Why did her moving story of love, war and survival haunt me so? My father was a Holocaust survivor who was both helped by courageous, righteous people and betrayed by others. He taught me to live by the Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” As I peered at the world through the eyes of an innocent Viennese boy (Johannes) who grew up embracing Hitler’s terrible lie, I found myself stepping inside a haunted house, into a love story that encompasses the most complex of human emotions, set against an extreme backdrop in which all lives are at stake. Life or death. What would I do? Would I stand up for my values, risk my life, the lives of my loved ones, to save another? Looking at the realities (and alternative facts!) of today’s world, I hope we will never be confronted with finding the answers to these heart-wrenching questions.
Writing the play has been a challenging and fascinating journey – distilling, creating and weaving all the threads into a new form, while staying true to the novel. As we approach the premiere, listening to my husband, Yury Gezentsvey, perform on the violin the recording of Jeremy Cullen’s stunning music, and watching our extraordinary cast – Tim Earl, Comfrey Sanders, Claire Waldron and Donna Akersten – embody Johannes, Elsa, Roswita and Oma under the brilliant creative vision of director Andrew Foster, is beyond exciting!
Christine: When I read Desirée Gezentsvey’s play adaptation, I felt she had entered the universe I had created and had understood it with the same intimacy and depth I did. She saw not only the darkness, but also the potent need for love, the humour and passion for life that rises above war and the worst of humanity. I couldn’t believe how complete the play adaptation felt to me.
As the news came that Andrew Foster would be directing the play at Circa Theatre and that others were getting involved, I really felt that something rare, wonderful and communal was happening. It was a pivotal moment for me seeing the actors’ faces for the first time, as if the characters in my inner dream stepped out of the confines of the page and were going to be given the opportunity to exist in ‘real life’, if only for a couple of hours at a time. It has been an extraordinary journey with Desirée, from a common hope to the tangible realisation of complexity; and to see how the story continues to live independently of me is something I, as an author, couldn’t have wished more for!
Andrew: What fascinated me about the play was the way in which Desiree has used the vernacular of modernist and existential theatre so that the ‘reality’ that is constructed has very little connection with the reality outside the house. It may be 1944 but the characters, whom we only ever see inside the house, exist in a Pinteresque limbo… I was drawn to the complexity of the relationship between Johannes and Elsa, to the mystery of it. Who’s in control?