Advice to schools
The staging of this play includes bawdy humour in language and action.
2. FAITH HEALER by Brian Friel
Theatre Company: Melbourne Theatre Company
Season: 4 March–8 April
Venue: The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne
Duration: approx. 100 minutes
Performance times: Previews (4–8 March) 8pm; Mon & Tue 6.30pm; Wed 1pm & 8pm; Thu & Fri 4pm & 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8.30pm
Tickets: Students $27, one accompanying teacher free of charge per 10 students; additional teachers/adults $44.
Bookings: Please contact Mellita Ilich, Education Ticketing Officer: (03) 8688 0963 or email@example.com
Script: Any recognised edition.
Irish, British and American theatre critics agree that Brian Friel is one of the greatest dramatists of the late 20th century. His play Faith Healer has been repeatedly revived on English-language main stages, including a critically and commercially successful production on Broadway in 2006 starring Ralph Fiennes. Donmar Warehouse’s recent revival on the West End earned four- and five-star reviews and it was last presented in Australia as part of the 2009 Sydney Festival.
Faith Healer focuses on the subtleties, complexities and emotive power of English language in live performance. The play role-models a style of theatre that focuses on the actor’s craft and is free of theatrics. This production features three of Australia’s most accomplished stage actors, Colin Friels (Skylight), Alison Whyte (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll) and Pip Miller (Death of a Salesman). The director, Judy Davis (The Dressmaker), is one of Australia’s foremost stage and screen actors.
In Faith Healer, students will have an experience of storytelling theatre. Three characters deliver four monologues in direct address to the audience. The staging is naturalistic, the setting appears to be in the recent past, and the characters speak conversationally with the audience. They speak with specified accents – two Irish, one cockney. They use classic tropes of storytelling, voicing differently other characters who appear within their narration, subtly physicalising different characters, re-enacting events with minimal movement and gestures.
The production design initially locates the play in a specific and recognisable time and place. The script specifies a few key set and prop elements – empty chairs, a poster advertising ‘Fantastic Francis Hardy’. Over the course of the play, the lighting, sound and performances at various times introduce an atmosphere of otherworldliness. These increasing intimations of the spiritual and metaphysical worlds encourage the audience to consider the reality of the world created by the characters.
On the page, Faith Healer looks and reads like a first-person narrative novella or collection of interrelated short stories. However, close analysis of the script’s content and format provides students with ample opportunity to consider the role of actors and a director in building a live performance from words on a page, with few clues in stage directions or character notes. Brian Friel notes in the script, ‘Stage directions have been kept to a minimum. In all four parts the director will decide when and where the monologist sits, walks, stands, etc.
Advice to schools
In this production there is occasional use of strong language, reference to alcoholism and depression, and an offstage death.
3. THE SEVEN STAGES OF GRIEVING by Wesley Enoch & Deborah Mailman
Theatre Company: Queensland Theatre Company
Season: 10 & 12 May
The Memo, Healesville (Wed 10 May), http://ach.yarraranges.vic.gov.au/Whats_On/Performances
Geelong Performing Arts Centre (Fri 12 May), http://gpac.org.au/find-a-show/
Duration: 70 minutes
Performance times: Healesville 11am and 7.30pm; Geelong 1pm & 7pm.
Tickets: Check venue websites.
Bookings: Check venue websites.
Script: The Seven Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, Playlab Productions, available from australianplays.org
The Seven Stages of Grieving is an enduring masterwork of Australian Indigenous theatre, penned 20 years ago by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman. It is a one-woman piece following the journey of an Aboriginal ‘everywoman’ as she tells poignant and humorous stories of grief and reconciliation.
Structurally, the play is based around seven different aspects of grief (rather than chronological stages) telling seven different tales, encompassing family funerals, black displacement, the impact of European wars, and other stories ranging from tragedy to jubilant celebration. This new adaption of The Seven Stages of Grieving is a Queensland Theatre and Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe co-production. The original script has been skillfully updated to reflect the contemporary political climate, including the addition of current political references making it relevant to a contemporary audience. The refreshed version of the play also reflects the changing attitudes of Australian people. It is directed by Jason Klarwein, artistic director of Grin & Tonic, and showcases the talents of emerging Indigenous performer, Chenoa Deemal.
The text provides the opportunity to study and explore Indigenous histories and cultures as well as their theatrical interpretation. Enoch says, ‘This play has been performed, toured, studied and kept alive through reinterpretation for two decades because it speaks of universal themes. It is not autobiographical, though it borrows from Indigenous lives. It is not a traditional piece of storytelling, though it focuses on the evolution of traditional cultural practices.’
The play’s structure is episodic, drawing together 24 short scenes, each with its own complication. It challenges the traditional ‘western’ concept of a play’s realistic format because it does not drive towards a climax and resolution. The dramatic structure allows the audience to connect to the themes of grief and loss, rather than a central narrative. It enables the storyteller and audience to jump between past, present and future as well as shifting between different places – all without relying on a change of set. The text provides a wide range of material that is rich with opportunities for students to explore time, place, mood, tension and role.
Advice to schools
This production explores adult concepts of death, grief and discrimination and contains mildly coarse language. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that the production does not make direct references to actual people who have died.
4. AWAY by Michael Gow
Theatre Company: Malthouse Theatre Company
Season: 3–28 May
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse, Sturt Street, Southbank
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval)
Performance times: Preview: Wed 3 May 7.30pm; Opening: Thu 5 May 7.30pm, Season: Fri 5 & Sat 6 May 7.30pm; Tue 9 May 6.30pm TTT (Time to Talk); Wed 10 May 7.30pm; Thu 11 May 12.30pm* & 7.30pm; Fri 12 May 7.30pm; Sat 13 May 3pm & 7.30pm; Sun 14 May 5pm; Tue 16 May 6.30pm; Wed 17 May 7.30pm; Thu 18 May 12.30pm* & 7.30pm; Fri 19 May 7.30pm; Sat 20 May 3pm & 7.30pm; Sun 21 May 5pm; Tue 23 May 6.30pm; Wed 24 May 7.30pm; Thu 25 May 12.30pm* & 7.30pm; Fri 26 May 7.30pm; Sat 27 May 3pm & 7.30pm, Sun 28 May 5pm
*VCE Matinee (followed by VCE post-show discussion)
Tickets: Students: metro $24.50, non-metro $22.50; no charge for up to two teachers per school; additional teachers $40.
Bookings: Complete the Schools Booking Form online, www.malthousetheatre.com.au, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Vanessa O’Neill, Education Program Manager on (03) 9685 5164
Script: Away by Michael Gow, Currency Press
Away was written in 1986 by Australian playwright Michael Gow and is widely regarded as an Australian classic. This multi-award-winning play, set in the late 1960s, explores themes of loss, loneliness and coming of age that are as relevant for audiences today as they were when the play was first produced.
Malthouse Theatre’s production of Away (co-produced with Sydney Theatre Company) is directed by Artistic Director Matthew Lutton and features the same creative team that worked on Night on Bald Mountain. It is a continuation of Matthew Lutton’s commitment to revisit and reimagine works from the Australian literary canon, such as his recent production of Picnic at Hanging Rock. The cast includes Marco Chiappi, Glenn Hazeldine, Natasha Herbert, Heather Mitchell, Liam Nunan, Naomi Rukavin, Julia Davis and Wadih Doha.
Away is a sharply observed, clever, funny and poignant play that begins with a school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and concludes with a school performance of King Lear. The work combines an investigation of three Australian suburban families in the late 1960s with many of the features of these Shakespeare plays: a spectacular storm, a shipwreck, other worldly transformations and reconciliation. These contrasting elements give the piece a dynamic mix of the familiar and the strange, the domestic and the poetic. This production explores and highlights the interplay of different theatrical styles within this work, offering students insight into a range of forms. Michael Gow’s text will remain the same. Liberties will be taken in the staging, but no new text will be added.
For students studying the interpretation of the playscript in performance, there is much to investigate throughout Away in relation to the cultural and social contexts of the late 1960s in Australia, including the impact of the Vietnam War on families, immigration, the rise of materialism and the emergence of the women’s rights movement.
Advice to schools
Content: this script contains medium-level coarse language. The themes explored in the play include sexual awakening, depression and extra-marital affairs.
Malthouse Theatre advises that for this production of Away, director Matthew Lutton has chosen to use the Alternative Final Scene, written by Michael Gow. The main difference is that the final lines of the play are spoken by Meg instead of Tom. For teachers who may be interested to know why Michael Gow wrote an alternative final scene, here is a link to a short interview Michael Gow did for the ABC Splash program: http://splash.abc.net.au/home#!/media/1976086/changing-the-ending-with-michael-gow.
If you have further questions, please contact Vanessa O’Neill, Youth and Education Manager at Malthouse Theatre on (03) 9685 5164 or email@example.com.
5. SHRINE by Tim Winton
Theatre Company: The Kin Collective
Season: 24 May–18 June
Venue: 45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Duration: 90–100 minutes
Performance times: 8pm plus school matinees (dates tbc)
Tickets: Student $25, 1 teacher ticket provided per 10 students
Script: Shrine – A play in one act, Penguin Plays
Shrine is the third in a series of plays written by Australian literary icon Tim Winton, which brilliantly captures the loss of a child through senseless tragedy. The Kin Collective formed in 2011 after its members participated in a master class conducted by acclaimed acting coach Larry Moss. The ensemble is made up of some of Australia’s most well-known and respected actors, including Noni Hazlehurst, Michala Banas, Ally Fowler and Marg Downey. Their last production, The Leenane Trilogy, by Martin McDonough, was nominated for three Green Room Awards.
Shrine throws a spotlight on the heartbreaking effects of a family shattered by the death of their son, while also subtly exploring the many economic and societal divisions within Australia today. Tim Winton’s soul-stirring text, set within the breathtaking beauty of the Australian landscape, conjures up a surreal and fragile world in which lies the possibility of finding solace from the most unlikely of people.
Winton plays with form, ranging from the direct address of Shakespeare, and devotion to language of a more formal theatre, to bursts of energy that are less formal. There are shifts in style, moments of expressionism and heartfelt confrontations. The play is both naturalistic and non-naturalistic in equal measure. The lead character freely transforms from one character to another and back, negotiating changes in time, place and space.
Shrine addresses the all too recognisable issues of the Australian drinking culture, in particular the devastating consequences of the choices made by young people, and addresses the waste of so many of our younger population dying in automobile accidents. The play speaks with simple honesty about grief, and the propensity of the Australian male to suppress emotions. It provides VCE students with the opportunity to analyse the ways in which these issues are addressed through theatrical performance.
Advice to schools
This production contains strong language and references to self-harm and sexual assault. The dramatic action centres on the aftermath of the death of a young man in a road accident.
6. THE YELLOW WAVE by Jane Miller
Theatre Company: 15 Minutes from Anywhere & La Mama Theatre
Season: 10–21 May
Venue: Courthouse Theatre, Drummond Street, Carlton
Duration: approx. 75 minutes plus post-show forum
Performance times: Wed matinee 1pm, Wed evening 6.30pm, Thu matinee 11am, Thu evening 7.30pm, Fri-Sat evening 7.30pm, Sun afternoon 4pm
Tickets: VCE ticket packages (including performance, program notes, post-show forum, published copy of script) $30 per person, postage of scripts is extra; school tickets (including performance, post-show forum) $20 per person.
Bookings: Maureen Hartley, Learning Producer, (03) 9347 6948 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Regional tour: Produced by Regional Arts Victoria, 24 April–5 May. For all details, see www.rav.net.au/whats-on/education-and-families
Script: A copy of the script will be available to each student/teacher as part of the VCE ticket package provided by La Mama or Regional Arts Victoria.
Note: The original novel is available as an ebook to be read online or downloaded to a device. Visit https://archive.org/details/TheYellowWave. The novel should be used as a reference and resource. It is not the playscript and there is no requirement for students to read or study the novel.
The Yellow Wave (subtitled ‘A romance of the Asiatic invasion of Australia’) is an adaptation of a 19th-century novel by Kenneth Mackay, telling the story of the invasion of Australia by a Russian-led Mongol force. Director Beng Oh has worked with a range of collaborators, including the two lead actors, to develop it into a theatrical production with the resulting script adapted by playwright Jane Miller. The production has had two successful seasons, the first as part of the inaugural Poppy Seed Independent Theatre Festival, the second at the Butterfly Club, and it was a recipient of a 2015 Green Room Award nomination for outstanding ensemble.
Some of the issues explored in the production include, but are not limited to, the impact of immigration, engagement of international workers, gender and racial stereotyping, equality and notions of what is ‘other’ or ‘alien’. The production uses humour to explore these issues. This is reflected in the choices made by the director in relation to performers and performance style.
Critical to the subversion of stereotypes is the decision to feature two Asian-Australian actors playing all of the roles within the show, regardless of age, gender or nationality. Neither actor changes costume for the duration of the piece, despite transforming continuously into different characters; nor do they use any props. The production relies exclusively on the performers using their physicality, and vocal and performative skills as the foundation of their different characterisations. Students will have ample opportunity to analyse the ways in which the two actors interpret a wide range of people and places.
The performance style of The Yellow Wave is neither naturalistic, nor does it attempt realism. A narrator fills in the story elements as the narrative shifts across years and continents. The production uses minimal lighting states, set and sound design; there are two single props and one set of costumes. This is a deliberate stylistic choice and demonstrates an application of stagecraft where the presence of the performers in the space suggest location, context, character and sound.
Advice to schools
Study of this playscript will require teachers to discuss the populist ‘invasion’ conspiracy theories prevalent in 19th-century Australia. Teachers should support this discussion by providing support material about the theatrical/literary device of stereotyping and information about attitudes to cultural diversity in 19th-century Australia. The discussion may also compare these views to those held by contemporary Australians. Please refer to the Additional information and resources provided on the VCAA website’s Theatre Studies webpage.
Theatre Studies Unit 4
The following plays have been selected for study in 2017. This list should be considered in conjunction with the requirements set out in Unit 4 Outcome 3 in the VCE Theatre Studies Study Design 2014–2018 and the advice provided earlier in this document. Students will undertake an assessment task for Unit 4 Outcome 3 based on the performance of a play on the playlist. Question/s will also be set on the performances of the plays in the end-of-year Theatre Studies written examination.
1. NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn
Theatre Company: Melbourne Theatre Company
Season: 8 July–12 August
Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road
Duration: approx. 180 minutes
Performance times: Previews Sat 8 July–Tue 11 July 8pm, Mon & Tue 6.30pm; Wed 1pm & 8pm; Thu & Fri 8pm; Sat 4pm & 8.30pm
Tickets: Students $27; one complimentary teacher per 10 students; additional teachers $45.
Bookings: Please contact Mellita Ilich, Education Ticketing Officer on (03) 8688 0963 or email@example.com
Noises Off has been a resounding success in all its productions since British playwright Michael Frayn wrote the play in 1982. New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company most recently presented it on Broadway, to critical acclaim, as part of the company’s 2015–2016 season.
Noises Off is a coproduction between the Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre combining the artistic, technical and organisational resources of both. Noises Off requires a highly technical production and these two state theatre companies have the resources to execute this. It is a modern classic that both entertains and draws empathy for the human characters in the drama.
This is a fast-paced farce that celebrates the dual magic and madness of theatre. The audience witnesses rehearsals and performances of a play-within-a-play, Nothing On, experiencing both the on-stage antics and the comic chaos behind-the-scenes with love triangles, missing actors and sardines, summed up in the (on-stage) director’s line: ‘That’s farce. That’s theatre. That’s life.’
Several different performance styles are apparent in Noises Off, including elements of commedia dell’arte, Restoration comedy and farce within the Nothing On play-within-a-play. Aspects of epic theatre and eclectic theatre permeate the production, as well as the conventions of musical theatre. Students will be able to analyse many areas of stagecraft, particularly the set, because the script calls for it to be turned 180 degrees in Act 2 so that the audience are watching the action from behind. The lighting, costume, make-up, properties and sound are highly theatrical, and students will be able to discuss how the ‘backstage’ world is contrasted with the ‘on-stage’ world. Similarly, they will engage in discussion about how the stagecraft area of acting is manipulated to create the ‘actor’ characters and the Nothing On characters.
The unique formatting of the playscript for the second act of Noises Off is particularly interesting for Theatre Studies students to analyse, as it features both dialogue and stage directions for the play-within-the-play as well as dialogue and stage directions for the ‘backstage’ shenanigans. The script as a whole includes clever wordplay, repetition and heightened language. The stage directions offer lots of non-verbal language to study.
Advice to schools
This script contains sexual innuendo and a few instances of strong language.
2. THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by William Shakespeare
Theatre Company: Bell Shakespeare
Season and venues: Tue 11 July Lighthouse Theatre Warrnambool; Wed 12 July Her Majesty’s Theatre Ballarat; Sat 15 July Esso BHP Billington Wellington Entertainment Centre Sale; Tue 18 July–Sat 29 July at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne; Sat 19 August Frankston Arts Centre; Tue 29 August Ulumbarra Theatre Bendigo
Duration: approx. 180 minutes
Performance times: Check with venues.
Tickets: Arts Centre only – student matinee $30 (one complimentary teacher per 20 students), check with venues for other ticket prices.
Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1300 305 730
Bell Shakespeare has been producing and touring William Shakespeare’s plays since 1990, along with its successful education program. Anne-Louise Sarks directs this production, working with some of Australia’s finest stage actors and new talent, plus a team of leading creative designers. The script remains as in Shakespeare’s original text, with some minor edits.
The Merchant of Venice uses comedy to tackle universal themes of prejudice, tolerance, greed and love. The central drama of the play is the bond between Antonio (on behalf of Bassanio) and Shylock. It climaxes in a court scene where the two main groups of the play meet for the first time. This production does not shy away from the brutality of the courtroom scene. Students will be able to compare and contrast a range of historical interpretations of the play, looking at how time and context affect performance styles, characterisation and creative decisions.
This production provides ample opportunity for students to analyse the characters’ status, motivation and characteristics. It questions who has freedom and who does not, and it highlights how having money does not always equate to having power or freedom in society. Almost all the characters in the play have to deal with these issues. Portia is constrained by her father’s will. She will be married to a man not of her choosing, despite being an independent, intelligent, strong young woman. She must find a way to establish equality in her relationship. Shylock and Jessica and Tubal are all treated differently because of their religious beliefs. Antonio is a man in love with another man, but clearly afraid to name it or directly act upon it.
In this production the director highlights the extreme views of both groups in the courtroom scene and there are no winners at the end of the play. Shylock is robbed of his money, his religion and his daughter. The lovers Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano, who we want to respect and celebrate, have revealed a hatred at their core. It is uncomfortable. It is a complexity that we are often denied in our narratives.
Although Shylock has no further text after the court scene in The Merchant of Venice, in this production we see him again as a broken man, recently baptised a Christian; robbed of his Jewish garb and completely alone. This highlights the emotional costs of the trauma he experiences and the lack of freedom he is allowed. One new aspect in this production is the journey of Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. She is constrained by her father and her religion and in the end rejects both, running away to be with her love, Lorenzo. In deciding to be with this man Jessica must convert to Christianity. In the final scene Jessica hears of the forced baptism of her father and his defeat. She hears this from her new friends and family, the supposedly victorious Christians. Jessica must find a way to reconcile their actions and her own in this scene.
Advice to schools
This production highlights the theme of anti-Semitism already existent in the original script and is intended as a springboard for discussion. Teachers are advised to guide students through information about the play and directorial approaches to the content. Please refer to the Additional information and resources provided on the VCAA website’s Theatre Studies webpage.
3. THE WAY OUT by Josephine Collins
Theatre Company: Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Season: Previewing Tue 22 August, closing Sat 23 September
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Chapel Street, East St Kilda
Duration: approx. 80 minutes
Performance times: 8pm plus school matinees at 11am or 1pm
Tickets: Students $25 (one complimentary teacher per 10 students)
Bookings: Please contact Kirsty Hillhouse: email@example.com.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre is an established artist-driven company with a reputation for presenting contemporary works from around the world. The Way Out, by Josephine Collins, is an entertaining and relevant new Australian play developed through the company’s acclaimed writing program, INK, and directed by award-winning Penny Harpham in collaboration with audio-visual expert Michael Carmody.
The Way Out uses humour and finely drawn relationships to tackle significant ethical questions and urgent environmental themes. In a distinctly Australian context, it presents a community constructed in the aftermath of atrocity. Under the extreme conditions of post-civil war, the denial of culpability has become a tool for survival.
Set in a small family-run pub in regional Victoria, a local civil war veteran sells moonshine to a broken town, struggling to survive in a poisoned landscape. His daughter believes in a different future and sees a way out, but nobody is listening. Then a government inspector arrives on the same day as a black-market salesman.
The script provides an excellent source for thematic study of family, war, power and corruption, change versus tradition, man versus nature, heroism and patriotism in a specifically Australian context, using the near future as a lens through which we can imaginatively explore our own contemporary reality. Students can analyse ways in which the production explores these themes.
The design for the production transforms the Red Stitch stage into what may look at first glance like a normal little country-town pub, with the use of materials and technical elements underpinning the themes. Throughout the play these components gradually build unease and undermine an audience’s sense of where they are. The materials used for set and costumes are man-made and unnatural, to contrast with a later scene in the play where relics of a former life are presented, bringing a sense of the past and nature returning to the world of the play. Sound and lighting are used metaphorically to contrast between the warmer, natural moments with harsh, technological and bright moments. The overall effect is that of a world existing uneasily in a present in which the past is both longed for and turned from, and there is no real vision for the future.
Australian colloquialisms blend with unusual and unfamiliar idioms in the mouths of the characters in The Way Out, providing an opportunity to investigate the way language is used to create a world; a song also features in the play. The performance styles are contemporary Australian realism and heightened naturalism.
Advice to schools
In this play, coarse language is used infrequently. The language use is consistent with the use of colloquial ‘Australian English’, which is a feature of this play. The opening scene includes some language that students may find confronting.
4. PIKE STREET by Nilaja Sun
Theatre Company: Epic Theatre Ensemble & Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Melbourne season 12–17 September; Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Southbank; Geelong season: Geelong Performing Arts Centre, 6–9 September.
Duration: approx. 90 minutes
Performance times: In Melbourne: School matinee performances with post-show Q&A (Nilaja Sun in conversation with Daniel Clarke), Thu 14 September at 1pm, Fri 15 September at 1pm, Tue 12 September to Sat 16 September at 8pm, Sun 17 September at 5pm. In Geelong: 6–9 September at 8pm (post-show Q&A on Thu 7 September), also matinee on Sat 9 September at 1pm.
Tickets: Melbourne students $26 [tbc] (one complimentary teacher per 10 students); Geelong $18 (one complimentary teacher per 20 students).
Bookings: In Melbourne contact Hannah Schneider, Schools Programs Coordinator, and Bronwyn Hill, Schools Programs Assistant: (03) 9281 8582 or firstname.lastname@example.org (please note that tickets for this performance will go on sale from Mon 5 December 2016). In Geelong, contact Kelly Clifford, Education Manager: (03) 5225 1207 or email@example.com (please note that tickets for these performances will go on sale from Thu 1 December 2016).
Nilaja Sun returns to Melbourne after her successful, sell-out seasons of No Child in 2012 and 2013. This Obie Award–winning solo piece was a critically acclaimed international success. In Pike Street, directed by Ron Russell, Sun portrays a host of characters living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, ‘bringing each to life with a radiant grace that makes her virtuosity seem as natural as breathing’ (Charles Isherwood, New York Times).
Pike Street is written like a play, with dialogue between characters moving the action forward and telling the story, rather than a traditional monologue text. The show consists almost entirely of scenes between two or more characters. Each scene comes to life as naturally as an ensemble-based performance. However, all the roles are played by Sun, who transforms, physically and vocally, to create a vast array of characters, conversing, arguing, and singing. This is an opportunity for students to study the use of expressive skills in interpreting a wide range of characters.
The play uses a minimalist set with the focus firmly on the performer in the space. The audience–actor relationship is established from the moment the audience enters the space. Sun starts her performance as Candace, a teenager incapacitated by a brain aneurysm. She sits in a chair as the audience enters and the sounds from a local news station reporting on a storm fill the space. Her body is gnarled and her stare is intent. The focus of the performer in these opening moments absorbs the audience and sets up the world of the play.
The performance style has been described as ‘transformative theatre’. The play uses elements of magical realism, physical theatre and contemporary performance styles. The minimalist staging, sound design and direction provide excellent scope for student analysis, refection and evaluation. The interrelationship between performance, direction and design is evident in the thoughtful use of space, the building of tension and the creation of setting, time and location.
Advice to schools
This production uses strong language and refers to drug use, racism and exploitation. There are sexual innuendos.
5. THE REAL AND IMAGINED HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT MAN by Tom Wright
Theatre Company Malthouse Theatre
Season 4–27 August
Venue Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse, Sturt Street, Southbank
Duration 90 minutes
Previews: Fri 4 August & Sat 5 August 7.30pm; Mon 7 August & Tue 8 August 6.30pm; opening: Wed 9 August 7.30pm
Season: Thu 10 August 7.30pm; Fri 11 August 7.30pm; Sat 12 August 3pm & 7.30pm; Tue 15 August 6.30pm; Wed 16 August 7.30pm; Thu 17 August 12.30pm* & 7.30pm; Fri 18 August 7.30pm; Sat 19 August 3pm & 7.30pm; Sun 20 August 5pm; Tue 22 August 6.30pm; Wed 23 August 7.30pm; Thu 24 August 12.30pm* & 7.30pm; Fri 25 August 7.30pm; Sat 26 August 3pm & 7.30pm; Sun 27 August 5pm
* VCE Matinee
Tickets: Student metro $24.50; non-metro $22.50; no charge for up to two teachers per school; additional teachers $40
Bookings: Complete the Schools Booking Form on www.malthousetheatre.com.au. Contact Vanessa O’Neill, Youth and Education Manager on (03) 9685 5164, or Dan Allemann, Box Office Manager for bookings enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, by Tom Wright, is directed by Matthew Lutton, artistic director of Malthouse Theatre. Previous collaborations between Tom Wright and Matthew Lutton include Picnic at Hanging Rock (Malthouse Theatre, 2016), On the Misconception of Oedipus (Malthouse Theatre, 2012), The Mysteries: Genesis (Sydney Theatre Company, 2010) and The Duel (Sydney Theatre Company, 2009).
Joseph Merrick (who became known as ‘the Elephant Man’) first came to public attention in the 1880s in London. Due to his physical appearance, he was exhibited as a human curiosity in ‘freak shows’ throughout England and Europe. He also developed an enduring friendship with Frederick Treves, the doctor who helped provide him with an alternative life at London Hospital and in whose care Merrick was able to reveal his great intelligence and imagination. The story of ‘the Elephant Man’ has been retold many times, and is probably most widely known through the David Lynch film and the play by Bernard Pomerance. Tom Wright’s script draws on Frederick Treves’ first-hand account of his friendship with Merrick (The Elephant Man by Frederick Treves), but doesn’t include the character of Treves. It concerns our contemporary obsession with the body and how contemporary society uses the body to define our place in society.
One actor will play Joseph Merrick in a variety of different theatrical modes and states. The central role of Joseph Merrick is an investiagtion of the complexity and humanity of this man and the contrast between how he appears and is perceived, and his own inner world and internal thoughts.
A chorus of three female performers will shift between multiple roles – people from the Victorian era who were part of Merrick’s life (carers, nurses, doctors, performers, and the general public) through to contemporary commentators in 2017, reflecting on the progression of medicine and science, sharing perceptions of the body, celebrity, empathy and the notion of ‘otherness’. The role of Joseph Merrick will be played by Mark Winter, and Julie Forsyth will be one of the three female chorus members.
The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man will provide ample opportunity for students to observe the actor-audience relationship, as it will explore a variety of theatrical ways in which the chorus engage with spectators. The audience will see Merrick both shrouded and unshrouded in the shadows, in full light and interrogation, in the domestic, and finally in a fantasia state. We will closely follow the shifts in his use of language – from being barely decipherable, to being increasingly more articulate, to allowing us to experience his inner poetry.