Bridget Mackey’s new inspired work bring together two iconic women – Courtney Love and Lindy Chamberlain – in a greatly anticipated premiere season of Love/Chamberlain. Legendary women indeed, occupying different hemispheres and ranging almost two decades apart in age, they have one thing in common – being unjustly accused of murder.
Mackey was inspired to write the story of this imagined meet when Courtney Love and Lindy Chamberlain appeared to her together in a half-dream while she was on an evening flight from Melbourne to Sydney. For Mackey, the play grew from interrogating this image – It turns out Courtney and Lindy might have quite a lot to say to each other.
“One shared experience between Courtney and Lindy that I focus on in the play is the way their respective morality was called into question as a result of their unconventional behaviour: Lindy was accused of being cold and calculating during the media frenzy and trial surrounding her daughter’s death, and Courtney Love is a larger-than-life celebrity who has made a name for herself for her outspoken and ‘bad-girl’ behaviour,” says Mackey. “Conspiracy theorists have accused Courtney of murdering her husband Kurt Cobain, and it’s become a right of passage for teenage Nirvana fans to hate her. The criticisms of Courtney and Lindy are gendered criticisms, and their respective stories demonstrate the consequences women face for behaving outside of what is deemed acceptable by society.”
Mackey acknowledges that Courtney and Lindy’s resilient attitude in the face of criticism is inspiring observing that Lindy has found a way to forgive people whose judgments resulted in her wrongful imprisonment and fans of Courtney will know how bravely Courtney speaks her mind, and how stridently she defends her love for Kurt Cobain.
In fact, it is this human and personal side of the story that Mackey is keen to investigate and reveal.
“These women were forced to grieve publicly for people they loved, and this struck me as profoundly cruel.” she says.
In 2018, Mackey lost someone very close to her and, she explains, this experience intensified her empathy for this part of Courtney and Lindy’s story. “While writing the script I asked the question: “What would it be like to grieve in the public eye? Not only to grieve, but to be accused of committing the murder of the person you are grieving for?” My response to these questions are a significant part of the play. Courtney and Lindy’s experiences speak to universal themes of loss and longing.”
Love/Chamberlain has been a labour of love for both Mackey and director Cathy Hunt for over two years. Research has been extensive as each has delved into the lives of these women to find clues about, not only the events that surround them, but what has fuelled public opinion about these events.
“We’ve done a lot of research on Courtney Love and Lindy Chamberlain, as well as the time periods that the main events of the play occur in,” says Mackey. “Something that I found fascinating, and something that has informed the structure of the play, is the suggestion by John Bryson in his book Evil Angels, that the horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s helped to prime the Australian public to believe ludicrous details about Lindy’s accused crime. The rumour that Lindy Chamberlain was a Satanist who sacrificed her baby in the wilderness seems kind of outrageous in 2019, but are more intelligible in the context of Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist.”
It is very clear that Mackey is a staunch supporter of both women, and the importance of her work is equally clear. She is eager for audiences to understand that these women stand for something very valid and significant – an ideal that Mackey herself is prepared to stand up for.
“I was recently at a party (channeling my inner Courtney) and got into a fight with a number of Kurt Cobain fans who staunchly argued that Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain,” she recalls. “I also recently described the play to a friend, who said that it wouldn’t be a play about Lindy Chamberlain if it didn’t contain ‘just a little bit of doubt’ that she killed Azaria.”
To Mackey, Lindy and Courtney’s innocence is a moot point. Mackey’s desire is for the audience to understand that Lindy and Courtney are nuanced and complex people whose experience of suffering extends beyond the public’s opinion of them. “It’s my hope that this will encourage the audience to think about the ways society apportions blame, and how dangerous hasty, ill-informed opinions can be,” she says. “Another important idea in the work is that we can gain a lot from understanding each others’ differences. I think it’s important to understand the people around you, even if you disagree with them.”
Mackey describes writing Love/Chamberlain as both a challenging and rewarding process. The first development took place in May 2017 followed by a development season in Canberra later that year at Ainslie and Gorman Art Centres, which, says Mackey, was fundamental in developing the script.
Mackey is still guiding the creatives and has been very involved in rehearsals – making updates to the script, as well as collaborating with the creative team on ways to integrate design and production elements into the play. “I love being in the rehearsal room, it makes the lonely hours of writing in my studio worth it.”
It is not surprising that, as a playwright, Mackey is interested in difficult subject matter. “I like dark themes, bad characters and I often use writing as a way to examine things that I find difficult to comprehend,” she says. “In doing so I hope to understand, or the very least, appreciate the complexities of the people and stories I’m writing about. I’m a big fan of the playwright Annie Baker, because I think she tells very human stories in a theatrical way and her plays are warm and funny but also very dark. I’m also inspired by highly visual and poetic theatre like the work of The Rabble and Adena Jacobs.”
Love/Chamberlain opens at Theatre Works next month, but Mackey is already working with the playwright Ben Brooker on an embargoed project for a Melbourne based festival. She will also keep working with her performance collective The Hunt. And she’ll probably start writing a new play.
Love/Chamberlain is a new Australian play about grief, judgment and the demonisation of women, and tears apart the fabric of the age old question; can any woman ever go unscrutinised for her behaviour in the public eye?
Says Mackey, this play is going to be a wild fever dream ride. The creative team is doing an amazing job bringing the script to life. Expect brilliant performances and theatrical surprises.
October 10 – 20
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 or online at www.theatreworks.org.au/program/love-chamberlain/
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