For its 35th anniversary, Michael Gow's '60s play 'Away' is treated to a sparkling recreation at Brisbane's La Boite Theatre.
'Away' is set in 1967 against the backdrop of an Australia embroiled in the Vietnam War, with Daniel Evans ('The Tragedy Of King Richard III'; 'Cinderella') at the helm as Director.
A freak storm cuts the Christmas vacations of three families short, leading them to intersect in a magical way. It's a summer fling – a journey from deep suburbia to the Gold Coast's glitter strip.
Speaking of glitter. . . 'Away' is bedazzled by a stellar cast including three Queensland theatre luminaries: Roxanne McDonald, Christen O'Leary and Bryan Probets.
Here, we have a chat to 'Away' Director Daniel Evans ahead of the show. What are you looking forward to most about being in the director’s chair for 'Away'?
I just love this play – it’s a brilliant, summer holiday, Australian classic. I’m excited to bring it to audiences because it’s all about who we are, what we love and what we hold dear. And one of those things is the Christmas Holiday Vigil where we jump in our cars and head for the coast. It’s something we’ve been doing since 1967 (when the play is set) and something we still do. Who we are is where we holiday – from sea view high-rise hotels to sandy caravan parks to a tent on a beach. It’s exciting to see ourselves reflected back to us (in all our cringe-worthy glory). I am also excited to be back at La Boite! I was last here six years ago and it’s great to be working with the incredible La Boite Artist Company. Can you compare this show in any way to another you have been at the helm of?
It’s a large cast, so the best one to compare it to is 'The Seagull' by Anton Chekhov – the grandfather of family drama. I directed a production of 'The Seagull' back in 2015 at Queensland Theatre, it had a large, beautiful ensemble like 'Away'. That was a monolithic monster! A three-and-a-half hour marathon! This one isn’t as long but just as complex! 'Away' will have 11 people on stage playing multiple roles, and each character – in their own peculiar way – is pretending to be something that they’re not.
Image © Morgan Roberts
What will new audiences unfamiliar with the story love about it?
It’s very Australian – it’s like watching your grandparents on stage and the world they may have occupied. It’s set in 1967 which was a simple but turbulent time in our history. Simple in the way of living maybe, yet turbulent in the way of historical moments – it was the year the contraceptive pill was made legal, the year of the referendum, and the time of The Vietnam War. Australia was also a very young country coming of age, with more than 40 per cent of the population under 21 years old. You are looking at a razor-point in our evolution – there was so much promise, so much potential. That time is sort of like radioactivity around the play and we feel these seismic changes through the prism of this small story. And for those familiar, why do you think this one is worth seeing again?
It’s a play that reminds us of why we love theatre. It’s so theatrical and fantastical. Beyond a play, we’re offering an experience and an opportunity to be inside the world as opposed to watching it. There’s everything from themed cocktails in the La Boite foyer to awkward teenage Shakespeare yearnings to bust-out Gold Coast dance floor numbers. What are some of the things in 'Away' that give it relevance in 2021 even though it’s set in the late ‘60s?
It’s about the big themes and is quite Shakespearean in that sense. It’s about love – from falling in love for the first time, yearning for love, and trying to stay in love. It’s also about the joy of living and the pain of living, and just how hard living can be; the strange cruelty of sometimes having to get up, show up and face the world even when the hand you’ve been dealt makes that difficult. It’s also about morality and grief; learning to move through the world when the very thing you get up for is taken away from you. Finally, though, I think it’s about how we transform our grief, how we can transform into something sublime. The play is a hotel mini bar. It feels like a cocktail to start, a hard spirit in the middle and a red to bed.
Image © Morgan Roberts
Tell us a bit about the cast – what is required of a cast to take on the characters in this story?
It’s a very Australian show which can often lead to playing the Australian cliché. The cast goes beyond who we immediately pigeon-hole them as and reveal these pearl-like characters each with their own grit and guts. The difficulty – and it sounds easy but trust me when I say it isn’t – is to create an authentic person on stage in a bygone world. There is also a need to conceal your real self. Every single one of them has a secret and must play public and private. Each cast member you meet at the start will not be the same person by the end. Can you give us any insight (without spoilers) about how the show is being ‘recreated’ for its 35th anniversary?
Without spoiling, I’ll say that it’s very experiential and it’s going to burst out of the stage. It’s a larger cast than previous productions of 'Away' may have had and there is a real sense of mid-summer magic weaved throughout it. What’s your favourite thing about theatre as a mode of communication and expression?
I love that nothing compares to sitting in a theatre and watching something happen in front of you in real time. I think most people use streaming devices while consuming other things to switch off, whereas theatre demands your immediate presence and utmost attention in a way that really brings you into the room with a group of people – all breathing the same air as you. Theatre is all about community and empathy; you are sitting amongst people witnessing a story together. It’s so finite: sharing a space and holding a story in a room of strangers. It’s one of the most intimate and special things we can do right now. And we are so lucky – and so fortunate – to be able to do that. And this story, 'Away', is the perfect meeting point – full of joy, humour and heartbreak. Sum up 'Away' in three words.
Magical, sunset-clad, heartbreaking. 'Away' plays La Boite Theatre 25 October-13 November.