Afterplay, directed by Heidi Manché and presented by Room to Play, opens to audiences on Thursday October 15 and offers a uniquely intimate and engaging night, housed in Paddington Substation Gallery. Manché, founder of Room to Play, is inspired by “intimacy in theatre, brilliant writers and humanistic texts” and describes Brian Friel’s award-winning one act play Afterplay as encompassing all three of these elements.
Afterplay explores the meeting of two forgotten and otherwise unconnected characters from famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s works Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya Irish playwright Brian Friel, who is well known for translating Chekhov’s plays into English, pens Andrey and Sonya meeting 20 years after conclusion of their respective stories in 1920s Moscow. “[Friel] is a true Irish storyteller ,” Manché elaborates, “and I believe he desired to revisit two of his favourite Chekhov characters. Friel was able to breathe life back into the characters and keep their stories alive.”
Being a small and intimate show, the unique and charismatic Substation Gallery serves to add an entirely new layer to the play. “This extraordinary historic building, sitting proudly on a hill in Paddington, offers the play a third character,” Manché relays, commenting to the personality and history of the venue. “The cast includes this venue in the show as a living entity. Audience and actors alike are affected by its presence.” The gallery is a reformed heritage tramway substation and is one of the few remaining from the 1930s making it both a venerable and relevant location for the two-hander play. Manché continues that it was important she cast players with ability to bring those elements to life: “The chemistry between [the cast] and generosity of their acting is crucial.”
The two scripted characters of the show, Andrey and Sonya, are portayed by Wayne Bassett and Emma Skelton respectively – both established and celebrated actors on stage and screen. Beyond the evident talents and training Bassett and Skelton bring to the table, Manché reflects on the value of their life experiences. The text, which focuses on how lost opportunities and distress have shaped the extrapolated lives of Chekhov’s creations, requires an appreciation of the ongoing struggle of life. “These actors are both middle-aged, as their characters are,” Manché explains. “Middle-age brings with it the burdens, knowledge and transitions of having lived half your life. The richness and texture of these actors’ own lives certainly informs their understanding and delivery of the text.”
Manché explains how “working with a small cast allows a greater intimacy with the actors.” Actors and directors alike would be aware that the beauty of shows such as Afterplay is the possibility to explore collaboratively an otherwise unrealistic depth of character for the cast. Manché comments on the advantages of understanding the actors’ personal lives and being able to “access examples of stories from their own lives that they can bring to the text.” For an audience, the fruits of such labour presents in a truly real and thorough cohesive performance that is the charm of such small productions .
The audience themselves are very important to Manché as a crucial component of the space the show exists within. Certainly the audience can expect, given the intimate space and small cast, that they will feel very much in the room with the characters. Manché believes that this energy is a vital part of the performance: “Our audiences are very special, in fact, we don’t exist without them,” Manché begins, “Theatre offers one of the few intense, visceral experiences in a world dominated by digital entertainment. [Seeing the show come together] is exciting for us. Watching a production come to life and then form its own life is joyous… because the adventure was shared.”
Room to Play which presents Afterplay was founded by Manché on her return to Brisbane just a few short years ago. The company’s mission statement reads “Room to Play presents independent theatre, harnessing local talent. Up close, personal and feisty.” Manché believes Afterplay is a perfect representation of what Room to Play aims to bring to audiences. ”Afterplay is a typical production for Room to Play in that we like to work with intimacy and pre-eminant writers,” Manché explains. “Having lived in Italy for years, my background in physical theatre and European drama impacts the choice of plays. I was fascinated with Theatre of the Absurd and transgressive literature during my studies and this certainly informs Room to Play’s works.”
Manché studied theatre in Sydney before travelling to Rome to study on scholarship at the Rome University ‘La Sapienza.’ Her training in Italy also included training in Commedia dell’arte, Theatre of the Oppressed and working alongside Nobel laureate Dario Fo. Her work in Brisbane includes the founding of Room to Play as well as the Brisbane Youth Theatre. She recently directed Dario Fo’s The Virtuous Burglar to a sell-out season in Brisbane, one of many texts by Fo she translated during her time in Italy. Manché is determined to put Brisbane back on the theatre map with her work in supporting independent theatre through Room to Play: “I hope to contribute to Brisbane Theatre by showcasing the extraordinary talent that is here and encouraging actors to stay or return to Brisbane for work! The Brisbane cultural scene is unique and growing and we would like to be part of this exciting expansion”
Afterplay has been in rehearsal for four weeks, including a preview of the show at the Sydney Fringe Festival in September. Manché considers this performance a highlight of the rehearsal period given the opportunity to “observe how versatile the actors and designer, Desley Martin, were in a very challenging space.” The show was received receptively by Sydney audiences with the Sydney Scoop showing excitement toward what Manché has to offer in the future: “We can all look forward with intrigue and anticipation [to] what Heide Manché does next in the theatre.”
When asked if there were any challenges in the rehearsal room, Manché responds that “they are part of the journey and …. an opportunity to respond creatively and build team spirit in overcoming adversity.” Included among these challenges was Bassetts unavailability for two weeks of rehearsal due to being overseas in Bali. Manché describes how they used this to their advantage: “Balinese theatre then informed some of my direction; the body in action, the body in a process of change, of performers and ‘audience’ alike.” Manché also comments on the interesting rehearsal elements she was able to employ given the small cast and niche subject matter including “drinking vodka shots in rehearsals one evening in order to gauge it’s affect.
With opening night fast approaching, Manché is looking forward to her final work taking shape: “Our productions are created with a view to looking after our audience. This time, we offer them access to a unique venue, delicious home-made tapas made by the Italian chefs of the Substation café, atmospheric music, vino, magical lighting and a slick production. It’s the least we can do for them.”
On asking Manché where she would be at that first crucial moment of lights up on opening night she responded with “I tend to sit at the back of the audience and gauge responses. I note the audience’s breathing, laughter, fidgeting: They become part of the expression of storytelling.”
Afterplay runs from Thursday the 15th to Sunday the 18th of October. Doors open an hour before each 7:30 show (5:00 matinee on the Sunday) to allow audiences to enjoy the full experience of the night. Tickets are available via the Room to Play Facebook page and stickytickets.com.