Finborough Theatre’s Christmas season opener may be a surprise to some but in staging The Wind of Heaven, the Finborough is bringing back this work of Emlyn Williams after a 75 year absence from the London stage. It’s a play certain to find resonance with our troubled times and as it looks at the role of faith, hope and togetherness, it seems fitting for the Christmas season despite its darker layers – if you’re not a fan of panto season, this is sure to be an interesting alternative! The production plays for four weeks until December 21st 2019 (tickets here) so I caught up with Director Will Maynard to talk all things Emlyn Williams and The Wind of Heaven…
At first glance, The Wind of Heaven – a play about a bereaved woman living in troubled times – seems like heavy content for a Christmas show. What inspired you to stage this work and at Christmas time?
I’ve been wanting to stage ‘The Wind of Heaven’ since I first read it six years ago, but it never seemed like the right time. I think it’s a story about a group of lost souls trying to find some meaning at a time of great darkness and national division: the disastrous Crimean war, for which the government was never properly held to account; widening inequality; and heartbreakingly frequent industrial and shipping accidents. The Finborough has a great reputation for staging Welsh work – and particularly for rediscovering Emlyn Williams’ plays. So, December 2019 at the Finborough made perfect sense for lots or reasons! I’m so excited that the play is coming back to the London stage after all these years.
You say this is a ‘play of faith‘. From the pitch, it seems to centre on a distinctly barren setting and situation – a remote Welsh mountain village bereft of children, faith and happiness and rich in inequality and lifelessness. Do you feel there’s a natural connection between faith and loss and indeed faith and hope in such extreme circumstances?
Of course. I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling that ‘something’s missing’ from time to time. One of the characters in the play talks about ‘the empty place in our heart that’s waiting to be filled’. It’s particularly true at times of grief, of course, and we naturally cling on to structures and belief systems that provide purpose and direction – job, family, culture, even faith. But the play isn’t just about human desperation: there are big questions about heaven and earth at its heart. So it’s no surprise that it’s set in the stunning Welsh mountains – a place where it’s easy to feel we might be part of something bigger than our own worldly trials and tragedies.
I was interested to read in your marketing material that playwright Williams was ‘a pioneering LGBTQ+ figure, and his remarkable life began in a working-class family in North Wales’ – do these influences find their way into this particular play?
I find it extraordinary that his play hasn’t received a professional production in London since its first staging in 1945. Emlyn Williams was one of the most important dramatists of the 20th Century and I think this play came from a very deep place within him – his own childhood growing up in a Welsh farming village, and the turbulence of what followed for him. In fact, he played the lead character in the original production – a kind of imposter, someone who’s culturally displaced, which I think is something Williams felt for a lot of his life.
What draws you to Emlyn Williams and his work?
I think a lot of people think about playwrights from the mid-20th Century as being dated or hammy. For me, the opposite is true: the dialogue feels snappy and bang up to the minute; the characters complex and well-observed. Williams knew how to write great plays with extremely daring subject matters. And this is a great example of this – particularly when you think he was dealing with extremely sensitive religious issues at a time when artistic censorship was in full force.
What do you hope audiences will gain from the experience of seeing Emlyn Williams’ play?
I hope it makes us pause. Just to notice what’s around us and each other – Christmas is a good time to ask some bigger questions.
Finally, in just one sentence, why should audiences come and see The Wind of Heaven?
This is a play about hope, faith, and identity written by one of the most successful actor-dramatists of the 20th century – let’s ask those bigger questions about heaven, earth and everything in between for Christmas.
So there you have it! Remember, The Wind of Heaven plays the Finborough Theatre for four weeks from November 26th 2019 and you can find tickets here.