Self proclaimed queer indie mavericks, Little Ones Theatre, are about to present Melbourne audiences with Christos Tsiolkas’ examination of Australia’s multi layered diversification in all its glory and horror.
“Merciless Gods is a brutal and poetic work that explores sexual, familial, and religious transgression,” explains director and company member Stephen Nicolazzo. “It is about class. It is about migrant experiences in Melbourne, in Australia. And in particular, focuses on how sexuality and ethnicity relate to each other in an electric and almost operatic way.
The contrast between acts of cruelty and the beautiful ways these acts are described on the page initially drew me to adapting Merciless Gods for the stage. That and my utter fondness and respect for Tsiolkas’ writing. When we first met, I told him that I thought this book was like reading Jean Genet in Thomastown (a suburb in Melbourne where I grew up) and that was how I wanted to interpret it for the stage; picture of French opulent queer sexuality and the concrete brick veneer jungle of the North-Western suburbs of Melbourne.
The ugly and the tender are central to Christos Tsiolkas’ work and that is something that inspires me theatrically- how the stage can present something completely and utterly sensual and rich, whilst at the same time exploring content that is anything but. There is always an exquisite and rapturous tension between the foul and flawed aspects of human nature and the sensuous and unexpected tenderness that comes from embracing one’s darker impulses in Christos’ stories, and this is still what is most alluring about bringing it to the stage.”
Nicolazzo describes Tsiolkas as a master of identifying all of the things we dare not say out loud. “…describing them in uncomfortable and brutal detail, writing them in the starkest and most poetic of phrases, then making them understandably and justifiably human. Christos resonates with audiences because he explores our most transgressive desires with compassion, wit, and humility. There is no judgement of the characters he writes about. They are three-dimensional, they are both other-worldly and incredibly common, all at the same time. This is what I think will translate in the stage adaptation- that our ugliest, most personal interior experiences can be shared, without shame.”
The work is adapted for the stage by Dan Giovannoni but fans of the original work should feel encouraged that the original work has been honoured with, in fact, the author being an incredible inspiration and support toward the adaptation and the production.
Says Nicolazzo: “Dan’s adaptation has stayed incredibly loyal to the work, but in some cases it has completely re-imagined some of the tales into a theatrical and unexpected form. Christos has been an incredible source of guidance for Dan and myself through this process and he has always encouraged us to shake things up- not always be reverent to his work. The content of the stories is absolutely in line with Christos’ book, but the voices of the characters have shifted slightly in order to find their theatrical equivalent. All I can say is that one of the most humbling experiences of my career has been having Christos listen to the first read of Dan’s adaptation of a story called Saturn Return, and having him weep and hug us both after hearing it. This was a real moment where I could feel that the work was in simpatico with Christos. Its been three years in the making, and Dan has taken on a mammoth task with an incredible courage and boldness. This work is extremely personal for Dan, and for myself, as we are queer second gen Italian artists who have related to Christos’s stories from an incredibly young age. The adaptation is an act of love and a tribute to all that Tsiolkas stands for, through the lens of a new generation of Australian theatre-makers, so I suppose in that sense, fans of Christos’ work can expect a celebration of one of our country’s most iconic and subversive voices.”
Nicolazzo has always been drawn to works that explore sexuality, gender, and performance, and while, he admits, the way in which he explores these ideas has changed over time, his belief is that they are still driving every decision he makes when creating a show.
“Initially, I explored these ideas through bombastic farce and spectacle, gender-fuck, and camp travesty,” he says.” As time has gone on, I have wanted to explore these notions and fascinations toward sexuality in a more sensuous and subtle way. The work is still stylized and over the top in its extreme commitment to form, but I think it isn’t as brash as it was when I first starting making theatre. I’m interested in exploring sexual experience through a visual and poetic theatrical style, one that is about world-building and atmosphere as oppose to cheap laughs”
Nicolazzo was the founding member of the highly lauded Little Ones Theatre so, for him and other company members, the most exciting part of working on shows is that they have full creative control of the work they are producing. The company is known for their risk taking, bold and probing studies and truly experimental theatre. For Nicolazzo , the ability to work in this way, is such a privilege.
Merciless Gods is a complex, visceral experience that will challenge. Says Nicolazzo: “This is an epic, ethereal night of theatre- its Barracuda meets Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother meets Jean Genet. It is colourful, dark, vivid, and sensual- and is constantly grappling with the grotesque, macabre, and beautiful nature of the world. ”
July 25 – August 15
Sarah Walker Photography