Ivan Menchell on Bonnie & Clyde

The Emmy nominated writer talks with author Richard Foreman about his latest creation, currently playing at the West End.
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Ivan Menchell, can I first just congratulate you on the critical and commercial success of the show. It takes a village of course, but you and the village must be justly proud. What initially attracted you to the story of Bonnie & Clyde – and then how did you approach the task of turning true crime into a musical of all things?

Thank you. It does take a village, or in our case, a gang. It took a while to figure out how I wanted to tell this story. I started by reading a bunch of books. Everyone they ever pointed a gun at wrote a book. The cops who chased them wrote books. Historians wrote books. But it was the one written by Bonnie’s mother (Emma) and Clyde’s sister (Nell) that gave me a way in. It’s a very intimate look at Bonnie & Clyde, including the letters they wrote to each other while Clyde was in jail. So, it’s their personal story that I decided I wanted to write. To delve into the minds and hearts of two sociopathic lovers while exploring the world and conditions that fueled their deadly rampage.

Bonnie & Clyde can be seen as glamorous and famous (as well as infamous). They stand in a tradition of the likes of Robin Hood, Billy the Kid and Ned Kelly. The musical also touches upon the violence and darker aspects of their story. But why do you think the pair resonated so much with the public, then and now?

The public ate them up with a spoon. Remember, this was a time when Al Capone was cheered at baseball games. They were also infamous as a romantic couple. Not only were they unmarried and sharing hotel rooms, Bonnie was actually still married to Roy. Scandalous!

Many of us are of course familiar with the tragic ending to their story. But there are lots of nuggets of history featured in the show which the audience won’t be familiar with. Was there anything which came as a surprise to you when researching the story?

Obviously, the Great Depression is well documented. And all you have to do is look at a Walker Evans photograph and you’re right there. What surprised me most about Bonnie & Clyde was the love they had for their families. The fact that they risked their lives over and over again to meet clandestinely with their families is fascinating to me.

There is a touching and tragic song at the end of the show, which refers to how the couple led a short but loving life. Lives that burn brightly can often burn out. Do you think that Bonnie and Clyde were aware that their life of crime would be short-lived? They fought the law – and the law won.

They were absolutely aware. Bonnie wrote a long poem about their demise that I include in the show. Their families were also aware and lived with that knowledge eating at them every day.

Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment? Are there any other stories of outlaws that you would be tempted to turn into a musical? Bob Dylan has provided you with some great title tracks for Billy the Kid and John Wesley Harding.

To be honest, I not looking for anymore outlaw stories at the moment. I’ve done Bonnie & Clyde, Xcalibur, Mata Hari, and Death Note. I’ve killed by machine gun, sword, firing squad and note book. I’m done. Right now, I’m finishing up the first draft of a brand-new musical we’ll be workshopping in NY at the end of May. We haven’t announced it yet but it’s a very unusual romantic comedy in which no one gets shot, stabbed, or dies in forty seconds of a heart attack.

Ivan Menchell’s Bonnie & Clyde the Musical is on at the Garrick Theatre. Tickets are available here.