Andrew Edlin performs as Churchill
Fairfield’s playwright and actor Andrew Edlin wants people to understand his production of “Churchill” is a play — with humor and actual quotes as well as words supplied by Edlin that Sir Winston Churchill could have thought or said.
Two performances are this weekend at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 general admission, available online, at the box office and at the door. The box office opens two hours before event time. Theater doors open 30 minutes before the performance. Youth tickets, $15, are available at the ticket office only. Call the ticket office at 472-2787 for more information.
“I’ve added things Churchill didn’t say,” said Edlin, born in Brighton, Sussex, the United Kingdom and an American citizen since 1995. “I don’t want people to think they are fulfilling some duty to come watch a history lesson.”
Edlin, who performed in plays in high school and has been active in local theater since moving to Fairfield in 1991, first had the idea to write a play featuring Churchill in 1993 or ’94.
“I grew up fascinated by Churchill, he was just everywhere,” he said. “I was 10 years old when he died in 1965. He had attended school in Brighton.”
Edlin’s website about his play, churchillplay.org, includes a brief biography. Edlin was educated at Cranleigh School in Surrey, England, which under drama teacher Duncan Noel-Paton staged very adventurous productions with large casts.
He earned a master of arts in psychology and philosophy from the University of Oxford, Magdalen College.
“Churchill” premiered at the Odyssey Stage in Fairfield in 1997.
“The play has changed since then,” said Edlin. “I’ve shortened it and tightened it. Some things have been added.”
He has performed the one-man play at various venues in the Midwest, including a special invitation from the Trustees of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., site of Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in March 1946.
“I have performed my play for audiences who are experts in Churchill, far more than I am, some of whom knew him personally, and for school students who had never heard of him,” Edlin says on his website. “They all enjoy the show. This is not a history lesson. It is an entertainment — a celebration of the wonderful, full life of a great man. Churchill loved to have friends round a dinner table and tell stories and entertain. This play continues that tradition.”
Edlin said he often is asked why Churchill.
“He is the second-most quoted person in the history of the world, only behind Shakespeare,” said Edlin. “And for the same reasons; they both spoke about history, comedy, tragedy and had smart one-liners. Also, as most famous people, Churchill has quotes attributed to him he never said.
“He had immense leadership capacity, holding 10 ministerial offices and served decades as a member of Parliament and twice as prime minister,” he said. “He is a well documented character in Britain, and there was this feeling that as long as he was hanging on, the British Empire was still there.”
A speech June 4, 1940, delivered by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the British Parliament, is one inspiration Edlin uses in the play. The most famous lines tell of the cost of World War II to Britain:
“We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …”
“To win the war, Britain really had to become smaller, diminutive,” said Edlin. “It was a tragedy Churchill understood, that to save Britain, to save the world, Britain would not emerge as a great world power.
“By 1940, Europe was completely taken over by the Nazis. The reality of that was very lively to Churchill and England. The country could be invaded. It was being bombed. The memory of that was still lively when I was growing up,” said Edlin. “Americans never had that mortal risk of invasion in World War II.
“Before the war, Churchill was laughed at for his warnings against Hitler and Mussolini. He wasn’t the least bit fooled by the Nazis. He’d read ‘Mein Kampf.’”
Churchill also held views that would be unpopular now, including opposing independence for India.
He wrote books and won the Nobel Prize for Literature and painted art that he submitted under a false name to the British and French art academies that were accepted.
“He was a very driven man, very detail-oriented,” said Edlin. “One rather interesting aspect about Churchill that stands out from other leaders and powerful men, he was not promiscuous. He and his wife, ‘Clemy’ had an impetuous relationship, but he had fidelity. It allowed him to channel his energies into things important to him. It was one of his character pillars to be faithful.
“Churchill was not racist, but he was nationalistic. He had a powerful understanding of the energy that came together to win World War II. He said Britain and America together, always win.”
Edlin said he begins his play on April 4, 1955.
“On that night, Churchill had the queen and Prince Phillip to dinner at No. 10 Downing Street,” said Edlin. “The next morning, Churchill went to the palace, which was the norm, to hand in his resignation as Prime Minister.
“My play is the time between dinner and resignation. I had the fictitious idea that Churchill walked to his World War II bunker to think about his decision: To go or not to go.
“He felt no one else could do the job [of Prime Minister]. He knew the people who would take over. Churchill always based his decisions on his experience. So, I have him start at the beginning, going through his history. And the conflict comes down to his relationship with his own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a charismatic politician, a famous orator and explosive character. He was a distant and disapproving father.
“Winston Churchill had a sad, but privileged childhood. The resolution of the play is dealing with his relationship with his father, who died at age 45. In his own mind, he needs to get some approval from his father for things he’s done before he can move on,” said Edlin.
“Winston Churchill had a gift of wit, the play is funny,” said Edlin. “He lived through extraordinary times.”