After seeing Darkest Hour in the cinema earlier this year, I was super intrigued when an interactive, immersive theatre production that presents what life was like during Britain’s Darkest Hour appeared on my radar. For King and Country is performed by actors who are aided by historical research and won’t have a script to prepare with beforehand. I managed to grab a few moments with writer/director Owen Kingston about the production.
HS: What can audiences expect from For King and Country?
OK: ‘For King and Country’ is an opportunity to be a hero. It’s a highly interactive piece of game theatre, where the audience have to direct the defence of wartime Britain against a Nazi invasion. The audience find themselves in the role of the war cabinet in an alternate-history version of the Second World War. Our actors are the military officers and civilian advisors who facilitate the decisions made by the war cabinet and feed back to them on the progress of Britain’s desperate struggle for survival through her darkest hour. It’s an opportunity to walk in Churchill’s shoes and make the big decisions that could lead to victory, or cost us the war.
HS: As the cast perform without learning a script beforehand, how do you audition/cast performers for a play like this?
OK: I think auditioning actors for highly interactive improvisation-driven pieces like this is incredibly difficult. You really don’t know how an actor is going to cope with this sort of work until you see them with a real audience. Some actors really struggle with this level of interactivity, while others thrive on it. For a show like this I prefer to work exclusively with actors I already know can handle it, or actors who come highly recommended from other immersive theatre makers.
HS: Because the play is heavily driven by such in-depth historical research, where do you and the company begin when starting to research the time period?
OK: Several of us are massive history buffs, so some of the background knowledge is already there, but then we really go to town on our research to flesh things out further. Obviously there are a lot of books on the period, but there is also a lot of excellent material online if you poke about a bit. There’s also a lot of useful primary-source material at the National Archives. For this show, which has an alternative history timeline that deviates from real history somewhere in 1935, we also spent a lot of time researching alternative history fiction from the period. One of the guys involved in the show specialises in this area – he publishes alternative history fiction at http://www.sealionpress.co.uk
HS: What makes The Colab Factory the perfect venue to do the show in?
OK: The COLAB Factory basement was a large part of the inspiration for the show. The architecture of the basement is remarkably similar to that of the actual Cabinet war rooms, and that’s what set us on the path of imagining a wartime themed show in the space. Ultimately, though, the COLAB Factory is the best space in London for immersive theatre right now. It’s the only programming venue in the world that I know of, that exclusively programmes immersive performance. It’s also a really supportive and nurturing place to be around for immersive and interactive theatre companies that are just starting out. The whole venue has a really positive vibe about it.
Thanks so much to Owen for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re intrigued, you can find more information about For King and Country at https://www.colabfactory.co.uk/ which is running until 10th June 2018.
Until next time,