Something other than Nothingness

22 Dec

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On Thursday I went to the Opera House to see Signs of Life, the new play written by the formidable Australian author Tim Winton, directed by Kate Cherry (Sydney Theatre Co. in collaboration with Black Swan Theatre Co.). Sadly it closes tonight (if you’re in Sydney, Run, Forest!), but regardless, I want to share some of the magic. Some of Australia’s finest theatrical talent should not go unrecognised.

In a world of isolation, loss, silence and drought, Winton’s characters are swept up in a tumultuous two hours upon the stage. With beautifully articulate dialogue, each of the characters wade through their own grief, searching for something other than nothingness. Winton’s careful rendering ensures the play’s pathos does not succumb to sentimentality or fake ideals. His environment is harsh, existence extreme; the Australian setting comes to symbolise an unforgiving and lonely world which we all  – regardless of geography – must face.

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Georgie (Heather Mitchell), a grieving widow, yearns for the presence of her late husband – for something more than dust, ash, his belongings and her memories. Bender (Aaron Pedersen) and Mona (Pauline Whyman), siblings with a broken car and an unwillingness to leave, break through Georgie’s cell of isolation. Also searching for a presence of their late father on her outback property, they hope to find their history, their culture. Something to which they can belong, from which to come.

In due turn each of the characters reveal their hearts to an audience they do not know exist. They are lonely, isolated, and bereft. And yet 400 individuals in the same enclosed room cannot reach out a hand or speak out, bound and gagged by that elusive Fourth Wall.  It’s a feeling all too familiar for many: loneliness or grief too deep to be expressed to anything but silence.

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And yet, somehow, Winton  – together with Kate Cherry, the four superb actors, and all designers – expresses  hope in this bereft world. The characters manage to transform their mutual distrust into something supportive, a collaboration in the face of isolation, strength not necessarily in numbers but in shared experience. In the same way, the collaboration between the dramatists has produced something of beauty and power. And finally the performance itself is utterly relational: those on stage are dependent upon the audience, the audience receptive to those on stage.

Indeed, there is no isolation in theatre. Human experience is shared in a single, darkened room: space for each audience member to say, “Yes, yes: that is what I feel”.

There are no easy answers in this play. More questions arise than solutions.  To what do we belong? Is grief, in its many forms, all that we can hold onto? Is there really something other than nothingness?

Whatever the answers, this play reminds you that you’re not the only person asking.

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Photography courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/what’s-on/productions/2012/signs-of-life.aspx

Thanks to B-Wazza and S-dawg for putting me onto the show! xoxo

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