Kip Williams and the poetic gesture

I first encountered Kip Williams’ work in 2013, with his production of Romeo and Juliet for the Sydney Theatre Company. From the opening moments with the Montague boys swinging on the chandelier, to Mercutio’s mustard-coloured velvet suit, the revolving mansion, a tangibly dangerous knife-fight, snatches of Alt-J and Max Richter in the soundtrack, and the devastating conclusion of empty white beds in a black void, I was struck by the poetic imagery and exuberance with which it exploded onto the Drama Theatre stage.
I’ve since had the pleasure to see the rest of Williams’ work for the STC. From the stark isolation of his Macbeth, to the aching Chekhovian lyricism of Children of the Sun, the luscious haunting of Suddenly Last Summer, and the frenetic kaleidoscope of Love and Information, Williams’ body of work is nothing short of remarkable. Following my recent chat with fellow STC Resident Director Sarah Goodes, I sat down with Kip Williams for an engrossing and lengthy discussion about the nature of scale, the poetics of space, the enormous challenges of wrestling Love and Information to the stage, and the promise of STC’s 2016 season.


Neither a woman nor a man: STC’s Orlando

Often cited as the world’s longest love-letter, Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando is a fictional biography of Orlando, an Elizabethan youth who wins the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and through good fortune and a dash of incredulity, lives across centuries, barely ageing a day in the process; following a sex-change in Constantinople, she (“for there can be no doubt about her sex”) returns to England a woman, only to find the deck of cards is stacked against her time and again, until Woolf’s novel finishes in “the present age” (i.e. 1928), when Orlando is well over three-hundred years old (yet looks little more than thirty six). Adapted for the stage by Sarah Ruhl, Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Orlando is directed by Sarah Goodes, and although full of colour and energy, it is perhaps hampered somewhat by a text which contains perhaps too much of Woolf’s own text and not enough of the playwright’s own dramaturgical landscaping to make it a truly effective piece of theatre.


Sarah Goodes and the leap of faith

When John Doyle’s play Vere (Faith) was announced as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s 2013 season, I leapt at the chance to become acquainted with director Sarah Goodes’ work. I had heard positive reviews from her previous productions at STC – Anthony Neilson’s Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness in 2011, and Hilary Bell’s The Splinter in 2012 – so although I had been unable to see both those productions, I knew of her work’s reputation as being generous-spirited, inquisitive, and compassionate pieces of theatre.
Since 2013, I’ve had the pleasure to see four of her productions, with a fifth – Orlando – about to open. Following the end of Battle of Waterloo’s run, I sat down with Goodes for a discussion about her work as an independent theatre-maker and as a Resident Director at STC, the importance of new work, the role of a director, and the seriousness of playing.


Our place: 7-ON’s We Are the Ghosts of the Future

We’re all familiar with digital content being present with us wherever we go, of being able to lose ourselves to the point of oblivion in a hand-held screen as real life happens around us, but the possibilities of immersive theatre are still relatively untapped in Australia. Sitting somewhere between art installation, theatre, and real-life do-it-yourself adventure storytelling, immersive theatre can be created on as large or as intimate a scale as the space and resources allow, with the intention that no two experiences are identical. British theatre company Punchdrunk are game-changing pioneers in this scene, and their work is nothing short of phenomenal, bringing “cinematic [levels] of detail” to large-scale installations in often unexpected locations.
Part of this year’s Village Bizarre festival in The Rocks, 7-ON’s We Are the Ghosts of the Future is a home-grown piece of immersive theatre set in The Rocks in 1935, on the day of Charles Kingsford-Smith’s disappearance. Whilst roaming around the Rocks Discovery Museum, the audience is given relative autonomy to wander in and out of rooms, building the (a?) world from the fragments and scenes we glimpse, the people we meet. Particularly memorable and powerful are the cross-dressing policeman, the abortionist (or ‘kind gentleman,’ to use the period’s euphemism), and the artist and the idiot savant (or ‘holy fool’). Street urchin children run throughout the building, trying to steal hats or delivering letters, and they are kind of like a ball of red string which connects each of the characters in this labyrinth.


Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s Roadkill Confidential

Having previously tackled Greek myths and self-devised theatre, Lies, Lies and Propaganda (LLP) have decided to tackle a completely scripted piece for their latest production, but I’m not sure it is the right vehicle to showcase their strengths, as individuals and as theatre-making collective. Sheila Callaghan’s Roadkill Confidential is the story of Trevor, a successful artist with a penchant for roadkill victims, whose latest work becomes a matter of national importance and the subject of a top-secret investigation when citizens start dying. While Callaghan’s play purports to ask the question ‘can art truly be dangerous, or is it only true when it is,’ it ultimately doesn’t quite reach the searing heights it sets out to investigate, and leaves us feeling left on the shoulder of the road one too many times.


Mexican waves: Belvoir & STCSA’s Mortido

Angela Betzien’s reputation as a writer of darkly furious plays which are as much social commentaries as they are impassioned calls to action makes her new play, Mortido, a welcome jolt of adrenaline in the tail-end of a year of theatre. Exploding upon Belvoir’s corner-stage after a critically successful season in Adelaide, Mortido is equal parts crime drama, revenge tragedy, morality play, and familial drama all in one thrilling evening.
Co-commissioned by Belvoir and Playwriting Australia, and presented here in a coproduction between Belvoir and State Theatre Company of South Australia, Mortido begins with a Mexican fable about death, life, and rebirth, and ricochets between past and the present, dreams and reality, across multiple countries and continents, while hunting down its elusive target. Amongst it all, its beating heart is the story of Jimmy, a small-time dealer in Sydney’s west, his medium-big-time distributor brother-in-law Monte, and their various run-ins with police detective Grubbe. Connecting all of them is cocaine, and an article from the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011 that inspired Betzien to ultimately write this play.