Multi- award winning playwright, Jane Bodie, (Music, This Year’s Ashes, Hallelujah, Out of me, Ride) brings a brand new work to the Red Stitch stage this November. Lamb is a story of family, the land, and being the one who stays. Featuring original music by Mark Seymour, the work is quintessentially Australian, examining (through the generations and over 40 years) the lives of an Australian sheep farming family.
Lamb is deeply moving and simultaneously humorous venturing into the thematic landscapes of aging parents, the need to find our place and identity and the need to let go of what we thought we were going to be. Other global themes echo within the work growing out of the generational threads Lamb is structured upon: the tension, as we grow older, with aging parents to make a choice between dreams/hopes and responsibility. Brodie acknowledges that whilst these themes are global, she feels legacy, for kids who have grown up on a farm and have a relationship (or not) with the land, changes this.
As far as writing inspirations go, Bodie confesses that her writing seems to always come from a place of deep knowing and a thing she’s curious about.
“In Lamb, a mother has died and the profound grief, that both brings three siblings back together and also threatens to tear them apart, is near to me, as I lost my father some years ago and my mother is currently suffering from Dementia – the fact she’s in the UK, where I grew up, but Australia has been my home for many years, brings up so much for me about responsibility to our parents, as they grow older, but also the need to reject them and their expectations of us, to be own people. It’s also in a way, my first non urban play – a play set in country Australia, where the landscape and the life of work on a land, the legacy of that, and the affect on how we grow up, has always fascinated me – it’s such a different landscape to the one I grew up in, but I hope as an empathic imaginative playwright, I’ve got some part of it right. Mark’s songs hugely helped in painting the landscape and feel of the place where this play lives – his songs and lyrics are drenched in sky and earth.”
Lamb is one of two new works by Bodie developed through Red Stitch’s INK program, but it is as much a collaboration between two complementary artists than anything else.
“I originally wrote a short piece for Red Stitch, in response to a song by Mark Seymour, for Playlist, their fund raising annual show, two years ago,” says Bodie. “Me and Mark connected at that, and I think we both, from that moment on, knew we wanted to make something together. So all in all (many drafts later) it’s been 2 years in the making, and I think Mark has also got a lot of songs from the process.”
Seymour’s original music is a vital aspect of the work and, indeed, becomes another character in the telling of Bodie’s story. Featuring as part of the work throughout the production, the creative partnership between the two collaborators has uniquely merged the visual with the auditory to give the audience a journey both intimate and beautiful.
“Bizarrely I can’t put into words how much the songs are a part of Lamb,” says Bodie, “The first scene sprung from a song of Mark’s and then the play began to inspire Mark to write more songs. It became a case of true collaboration, and we tended to agree, moment to moment, on when a song was needed and what kind of song. the songs act like a vivid waking dream in the play and also a way of us seeing into the soul and truth of the characters, as well as telling us things we didn’t know – they’re like soliloquys really, really catchy ones. They also mainline straight to the heart, without having to say too much, but they somehow crack the plays feelings open.”
Bodie has written a quintessential Australian story – one that speaks to our collective national pride. For Bodie, it is crucial that we see Australian stories on our stages which is why she was Head of playwriting at NIDA for 3 years and then Artistic Associate at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney – what Australian stories are and could or should be however is a whole other can of worms.
“I don’t think we should feel limited by the term “An Australian play’ I think it should be as wide as our sky and as unchartered and mysterious as our deserts, ” she says. “I think we fixate way too much on what the term means, rather than just writing (as individual playwrights) about how we feel living here and now – we need to grow out of that. But I am a bit tired in truth of us doing last years hit London play, rather than searching out and finding our own plays and playwrights – but I think its our theatres that have the power to change that. for kids who have grown up on a farm and have a relationship (or not) with the land, changes this.”
Bodie admits that her themes seem to have changed in the last few years. “I think my earlier plays were funnier, and had more sex and wine in them! (make of that what you will) but now, often my plays interestingly have a significant character who isn’t around in them – and they explore grief, but the affect of someone’s absence on other lives – and I’m sure this is to do with losing parents. The world feels very insecure right now, with Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and the current Australian political climate, I think people are in shock, there seems to be a lack of justice and truth, and I think our plays (or my plays) are somehow seeking to make sense of that – or at least house stories and people who are trying to make sense of a changing world, and make good choices, but also seek the truth.”
It would seem Bodie’s writing destiny was set in childhood when at 7 years old she saw a Theatre De Complicite production with her mum, in some small dark arts centre…”and I laughed till I felt sick and then cried, wept out loud, and I knew then, writing fro the stage was for me.”
For Bodie, the creation of a work is a blend of instinct and intellect, imagination, so the question that most playwrights are asked – whether their work is based on real people – becomes a tough one to answer. “I’ve written quite a lot of plays,” she says. “I’d say the plays are now less overtly based on my life and reality and are creatures of my imagination – but real life (and people I know and have met) can’t help but get their grubby hands in there and influence parts, bits of lines and stories, desires and thwarted hopes – it’s a glorious and gruesome mash up of both really.”
Characters are often born of blood, sweat and tears, and have often been compared with the birthing of children by many writers. I asked Bodie if any one of the characters in her latest work was easier to write for than another and was there one, or more characters, that gave her the most pleasure to write for.
“All were a joy and I really mean that,” she says. “They came one by one (a bit like children really) in that they began to fill out and become more complex as the story took shape. I also think the songs and thinking about who would sing the songs, when and why – helped me build an emotional profile and world for each of the characters. I feel very lucky in that this is the plays first outing, and the 3 actors we have, feel absolutely right for each of the roles, and have brought more than I could have imagined to them – and that’s before they began to sing. It’s been magical.”
Lamb is a story that reminds us about who we are; a human story based on an environment we know well. For Bodie it is a tale built on things that still and will always matter , truth, family, connection with place and home, death and moving on from our parents and what imprisoned us. Says Bodie: “The acting is sublime, the songs are both soulful and catchy and they sing of the sky and land, and I can promise that you will laugh and cry and want to buy the album.”
Lamb – A new play with songs
November 21 – December 13