Interview with writer and actor Anne Chamberlain

Anne Chamberlain is a writer / actor from New Zealand, her show 'EGLANTYNE' is currently touring the UK. I caught up with her this week in a Q and A about her work,

AT: Tell us a little about the show, where the inspiration came from and when you first started working on it...

AC: My EGLANTYNE show is a new one woman play exploring the inspiring life of Eglantyne Jebb, a courageous, charming, passionate, humanitarian, human rights activist and co-founder of Save the Children. From her idyllic Shropshire childhood, Eglantyne went on to Oxford University, social work in Cambridge, heartbreaks, suffrage rallies, spiritualism, the Balkans, arrest in Trafalgar Square, saving starving children and pioneering children's rights. In 1919, in response to the devastating famine in postwar Europe, Eglantyne and her sister Dorothy founded Save the Children. Eglantyne drafted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child which evolved into the current United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The play is not only about Eglantyne's big heroic moments - co-founding Save the Children and her visionary work on the Rights of the Child, but also about very personal aspects of her life, her struggles, her heartbreaks, her frailties, her humanity.

I'm a writer, performer, producer and sometimes I do communications and event management projects. I was born in New Zealand and have also lived and worked in the UK and Germany. In 2013 I was working on contract as a communications adviser for Save the Children in New Zealand. I was researching Eglantyne's life for a conference and became fascinated by her and also felt slightly ashamed that I'd never heard of her before. I decided that when my contract ended I would research, write, produce and perform EGLANTYNE.

AT: What research did you undertake in to Eglantyne's story?

AC: There have been some biographies written about Eglantyne Jebb so they were an obvious place to start, the most recent biography was written by Clare Mulley and published in 2009. Beyond the biographies, I felt my personal research had to start at the very beginning by visiting Eglantyne's childhood home, The Lyth, near Ellesmere, Shropshire. I spent one very precious hour there and was shown through the house and gardens by Corinna Jebb, wife of Eglantyne's great nephew, Lionel Jebb. Jebb family members are still living at The Lyth. Eglantyne's personal papers including letters, diaries, speeches, various essays, poems and other publications used to be held at The Lyth but were recently given to the Women's Library, now housed at the London School of Economics. I spent many hours at the LSE library searching through Eglantyne's papers - it was like panning for gold.

AT: And what has the life of the piece been like so far?

AC: Well - once my contract with Save the Children in New Zealand finished and I had done some early research. I knew I could stay in research land for a long time but I felt compelled to start writing and try to get the play written and into production as soon as I could. I felt like I was being pulled forward by this project. It was step by step and still is but I had to keep moving forward.

AT: How did you create and rehearse the show? Was it the first time you'd worked on a solo piece?

AC: I started writing the play in January last year. It came together reasonably quickly. I asked KC Kelly if he would like to direct the show and he was interested. By late February, I had completed the script and we started rehearsing the show. In the first couple of weeks in rehearsal I made a few edits to the script. It was great having KC's input at this stage. Great having someone to bounce ideas off and great to have company. This is the first solo piece I have created or performed. I have done short solo gigs in cabaret and comedy but not ever a whole solo show. It wasn't really until sitting in the dressing room in Geraldine, Canterbury, New Zealand, on 1 May 2014 just 30 minutes before the world premiere of EGLANTYNE that I fully took on board - help I'm going to be out there for 75 minutes on my own. Perhaps if I'd thought about it too much I may not have embarked on the EGLANTYNE venture. Happily, EGLANTYNE was well received in Geraldine, the idea became a reality and the show was up and running.

AT: It's really great to see Eglantyne's story being told, as women are so often written out of history, or have had their achievements ignored. Did Eglantine face any struggles (due to gender inequality) in achieving her goals during her lifetime?

AC: I have been wondering why I had never heard of Eglantyne Jebb. Thankfully today I think women's activities and achievements are well documented, well recorded and celebrated. One hundred years ago things were a little different. In the UK women didn't even have the vote and had only recently been able to study at universities. It was so much more a man's world and the history books and records show that. We know about Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie, we know about the suffragettes and women who forged ahead in the arts as writers, artists and performers, but we don't seem to know much about women's achievements in other areas. We have to search deeper to find records of women's activities and their impact on society and humanity.

AT: You have toured this show in NZ and now in the UK, have you noted any differences between working in there in NZ and the UK or is it much the same?

AC: Last year I toured to six centres in New Zealand. I felt the best place to launch EGLANTYNE in the UK was Shropshire. I wanted to take her home. On 7 June, I literally did that by performing a private preview show in Eglantyne Jebb's childhood home for some of the Jebb family and friends. Of all the shows I have done apart from the world premiere in Geraldine, the house show was the show I've felt most anxious about. It was such a privilege to be able to perform the show in Eglantyne's childhood home. I loved imagining her coming through the front door, running up the stairs, sitting on the chairs. I was so relieved and happy that the house show went well and was enjoyed by the Jebb family and friends. Pheeeew. On 11 June, EGLANTYNE had a wonderful UK premiere at Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn - well attended and well received. Then it was on the road to Ludlow and Hereford. Coming very soon on Thu 2 July is Cambridge at the Mumford Theatre and on Fri 10 July the beautiful Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire. For me performing EGLANTYNE on her home ground brings her closer. The audiences in New Zealand and the UK seem to enjoy and appreciate the show in a similar way. Eglantyne was a modern thinker with an international view of the world especially the need for mankind to take on global responsibilities for humanity.

AT: What are you most looking forward to with regards to your upcoming UK tour?

AC: I'm speaking to you mid way through the tour. I have been looking forward to the whole UK tour and it's been terrific. Performing the house show was such a privilege, a scary privilege, and I was thrilled that the first public show at the Theatre Severn went so well. It's still all step by step. Every show and every place is a different encounter. I have recently discovered that Jebb family members live in Cambridge and will be coming to that show. Also in this round of UK show's the Cambridge show is the closest to London, so London friends are coming along as well as Clare Mulley who wrote The Woman who Saved the Children, the 2009 biography. Lots happening in Cambridge. And I'm really looking forward to the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire - it's the oldest working theatre in the UK. Beyond this first round of shows in the UK, I wish to set up more UK dates and eventually bring EGLANTYNE to London.

The show will be in Cambridge on 2nd July 2015, and in Richmond (N Yorkshire) on the 10th, with potential new dates in the future. Keep up to date at: http://www.eglantynetheshow.com/tourdates.html

(c) Amie Taylor for Female Arts / Anne Chamberlain 2015

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