WAR IS TIMELESS - Interview with Lanna Joffrey

Image: Author, actor, creator of VALIANT, Lanna Joffrey

What is it that a cool 16-year old might find compelling about the verbatim accounts of women who have one thing in common: War.

VALIANT started its life as a book when the late Sally Hayton-Keeva devoted many years to taking verbatim accounts of 38 women’s experiences of war, from all over the world. Lanna Joffrey read the book as a teenager and it never left her. Years later after moving to New York City, she found herself amongst the audience at a talk soon after 9/11, given by Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler. “That was the turning point”, she tells me. “I am Middle Eastern, so I was terrified of the backlash of hate against my culture and I felt helpless. That talk unstuck me.” She decided to write to Hayton-Keeva. “I was shocked that she simply agreed to give me the rights. No fuss, no five hundred page contracts” Clearly Sally saw something in Lanna Joffrey’s passion. And it is that same passion that today is the play VALIANT.

But why war and why today? “War is timeless” she tells me. We fight wars every day, we access each other in and through battle. We understand, we hurt, we kill, we love and we lust after each other in thesis and antithesis. That is how we synthesise. That is how we procreate, intellectually and bodily. There is something very captivating about an actress who has written and brought a play to life. There is something very urgent about bypassing the temptation to foreground women in kitchen sink realism but rather focus on revenge, shifting borders, Judaism, the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust and Afghanistan. “Sometimes war is the only way”, Lanna whispers to me. I agree. “How would you tell a Jewish woman in 1939 not to engage in a war against Hitler’s forces?” You don’t and you shouldn’t.

But I’m still curious about why this young woman from the US was so fascinated by war. At first I suspected the media frenzy surrounding the events of 9/11 but I was mildly wrong. Born in an underground hospital in Germany in 1944, Lanna Joffrey’s mum is a survivor of the Iranian revolution. She speaks about her mum with great love and a sense of gravity that transcends events. The Middle East is still a battleground, and silently and subtly and despite the polished news bulletins, so is the Mediterranean, so is Zimbabwe and so is Russia’s Eastern Front. We have not gotten any better at averting war, only at sugar-coating it as a news item.

“War has been a part of my history from the beginning. My family didn’t flee to London because we wanted to leave our home, the violence made it impossible to stay. So war has always been a thought in my mind as most of my family have been involved in several wars and conflicts throughout history. Every woman in my family has been touched by it, but not many of them spoke about it. When I read Sally’s book and she spoke of how most of these women had never shared their stories till she asked them, it rang true in my own experience. It was the only book of its kind that I had encountered, so I knew it was special and needed to be shared again and again”.

I ask Lanna about ‘the process’. The transformativity of the acting experience, the transplantation of events into dramatic narrative. I’m elated to hear that she doesn’t adhere to formalism. A graduate with distinction of two renowned acting schools and Member of The Factory led by Louis Scheeder & Scott Brooksbank, Lanna Joffrey uses experience, innateness, intelligence and intuition to theatricalise a struggle, a moment, a life, a thought.

I’ve known Lanna a couple of years now and every time she read for me my text basculed in a different direction. And this from a writer who is not too free with her compliments and rather tyrannical about the elasticity of written word. My opinion is that if, as an actor, you can’t spin, weave, bascule, raise, lower or elasticate the text that is before you then you should go do something else. With Lanna Joffrey, that ability is something she was born with. There is no vanity in the pursuit, no ‘fashion moment’, she is totally consumed by her devotion to the body politic and the body natural of her work. “I do it because I want to effect transformation in my audience” she tells me quite unashamedly. So no cloaked didacticism, Lanna Joffrey wants you to experience your own personal catharsis in this process. With VALIANT she’s hit the spot.

“I do this because it keeps me awake at night”. Perfectly put.

Perfectly delivered. Do not forget the name: Lanna Joffrey. And very talented.

An adapted verbatim play, VALIANT is at Edinburgh Fringe 2015. Women and their war stories matter.

(c) Effie Samara 2015

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/valiant Edinburgh Aug 5-31

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