FLUX, by Margaret Sweatman (book) and Glenn Buhr (music)

Andrew Kushnir (writer of “Foto”) interviewed Margaret Sweatman (writer of “Flux”) about her anti-war musical.


Script and lyrics by Margaret Sweatman; music by Glenn Buhr

Directed by Margaret Sweatman. Music director: Glenn Buhr.
Presented by Flux Collective
Featuring Benjamin D’Cunha, Madeleine Donohue, Kate Kudelka, Craig Pike, Michael York

Flux is an antiwar musical comedy set in the surreal landscape of medieval Scotland. Will the brutal English monarch, Edward the Blond, dispatch his mortal enemy, Annathema, the Scottish Woman-King? Or will he marry her? Eclectic songs, joy, rage, desire, resurrection and atomic particles — all in Flux.

Kushnir says, “Writer-on-writer interviews are the way to go. We only did 7 questions each instead of the 10 we were asked to do cause it just got too crazy intense. So crazy it was craxy. Sweatman makes me craxy.”

It is said, in Musical Comedy, that when the emotion is too great to speak, the character must sing. And when too great to sing, the character must dance. How has Flux’s gutting, piking, mutilation and resurrection re-invented the formula?


When these characters get mad, or crazy in love, they rise from the dead and start kissing, killing, and singing. (We can’t dance at our SummerWorks concert production because we’ve only got an hour.) Love and rage, or as Kettle Flatnose says, “Food and love and war,” inspire in these characters a great appetite for life. When they get too excited, they sing, “We’ll bring ye the nards of Edward the Blond!

Did you set out to make a political, anti-war statement with Flux or did you discover a hugely timely message later in the creative process?

This is a lovely question. There was no message in mind. I started by reading Scottish history, thinking I’d write a novel about my mother’s origins. But the history, and the characters of Scottish warriors, and the Scottish language, it was all so funny and visceral. I was supposed to be writing an opera with the composer (who is my husband) Glenn Buhr, but we swerved into this Scottish stuff, which grounded it, and there was no way it could be high opera. We put together some planned or informed improvs with actors, and we all found ourselves very funny. The “anti-war” stuff came as a surprise, about a hundred years after we’d be living with this wee beastie.

Glenn Buhr

Glenn Buhr

Hearing about your piece makes me think of movies like Pan’s Labyrinth where good and evil play out in an otherworldly-yet-familiar realm. In Flux we’re in Dark Ages Scotland-not-Scotland, right? What makes this approach so effective (and appealing to audiences) when it comes to dealing with dark themes? Is it as fun to write as it sounds?

It’s so interesting: lightness – bird lightness, not feather lightness; a lightness of spirit, a freedom of imaginative logic – permits us to deal with very dark issues: murder, war, blood-thirst, avarice, grief and death. We have “Flux” in an a-historical setting (between the 12th and 13th centuries) to free ourselves from reality’s weight. I love to read history, but when I’m writing, I don’t want to be obedient to what is, after all, a public domain. And yes, it’s very fun to write this otherworldly stuff – though at times, I get anxious. Um. Do you?

The idea of characters transforming into their own foils is delicious. It sounds like your cast is going to be doing a lot of switching back and forth between characters. Is it your view at all (and maybe one of your themes) that “the other” is much less of “an other” than we think? Or are you just embracing all the theatrical potential of this imaginative world of yours?

The characters do double as their foil. The Scottish Squire is also the English King Edward (who has previously had him gutted and burned). The Scottish Woman-King Annathema is also the elegantly male French Diplomat Duval. The world is atomistic, mutable, in flux. Physical matter is made up of divisible particles. That’s profoundly funny. We’re barely here at all; we’re composites.

Ok…this is tip-toeing in gender issues…but it’s a fascination of mine: Your protagonist, Annathema, is called a woman-king as opposed to a queen. Do you think women have to shed the feminine and/or adopt the masculine in order to be warriors in our world? You cite Joan of Arc (and Hillary Clinton comes to my mind) – women who become manly in order to take charge. In your opinion, is this kind of drag funny, scary, or simply necessary?

I don’t know if, in the real world, women must become masculine to participate. It’s a difficult issue – in life. In everything I write, I think, I’m having to put my female characters into male disguises somehow so that they can participate in history, in politics; so they can bloody well leave the house. What that says about life, I’m not sure. It’s more likely a reflection of my own timidity, and a writer’s addiction to silence. Cross-dressing is also, though, a traditional aspect of comedy. Which is very interesting… that comedy unseats us from gender’s high horse.

Can you brag about some of the artists involved with Flux? Pick favourites even.

This cast is gorgeous, funny, talented, talented, talented. They are generous, imaginative, courageous, disciplined artists.

Everyone is looking for the “Song of the Summer 2008”. What lyric from Flux would you dream to hear from car radios and club speakers this August? If it’s different, what is your absolute favourite lyric in Flux?

Well, I think we should all be singing, “We’ll bring ye the nards of Edward the Blond!” while we drive our Mustangs down the boardwalk this summer. But I do like “Fergus’s Epiphany.” (Fergus Flatnose is a Scottish soldier, who happens to be an atomic philosopher. He’s played by Michael York, the wonderful baritone.)

I niver did see he wis a man afore nou.
With a man’s hart, and a man’s soul.
I niver anticipatit ta see the flux o’ real bein’
in the eyes of a gagger such as King Edward.

O the strangeness of love, its flux, its imperatives
the whole wairld fosters, maykes a brither of a miser.
When love filters thru the particles of
even such a tyrant so flawed by his appetities,
he re-enterit the wairld as dew frae the bog,
an’ joynes the percolating universe.

It’s in the air, as dew rises frae the marshes an’ the firth,
The break doon o’ matter, the atomic smatter, the wavelets an’
Particles aa dancinit ‘pon the water, aa flittrin’ thru the misties,
aa dance o’ becomingit, aa song of our longinit,
in ether love dancinit, the particles o’ beingit…
And the one wha dares ta sigh fer love,
will nae be kilt nae die, O.

For he’s infinitely divisible and fundamentally risible,
aa laughable the particles tha’ ripple thru his corporeal;
nae matter, nae murder, when love’s in the ether,
ye rise frae the bog on the dew, O.
Ye transpire, nae expire, ye evaporatit, recoagulatit,
and ye niver kill a lover when he dares to love anither.
His anatomy is all atomies, aye ye niver kill a lover,
even such a gagger, even such a hoggit as King Edward.
For we’re infinitely divisible, and fundamentally risible,
and we’ll rise frae the bog on the dew, O.

Margaret Sweatman

Margaret Sweatman


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