Actor-cum-director Michael Finney takes Gary Henderson’s Unseasonable Fall Of Snow and makes it his own.
It can be tough being a first time director but Finney is leading a very capable couple of actors – Wayne Pearn and David Passmore – as well as working under the banner of a highly respected theatre company. Hoy Polloy offered Finney the job and he grabbed it quickly realizing the benefit this play offers to a first time director. “The work itself is concise, economic, not extraneous,” Finney explains. “It starts, and ends in the same room, with two characters. Coming from an acting background, it seemed an obvious choice for me to focus on the journeys of these two souls in space. The play is an actor’s dream, providing muscular text and endless physical opportunities.”
As with all wonderful collaborations the meeting between Finney and Pearn was quite fortuitous and led into a mutually beneficial arrangement that has served the actors, playwright and director. “David Passmore, who plays the role of Liam in the play, is a born-and-bred New Zealander, and also a very good friend of mine,” Finney says. “We worked together in a show roughly 5 years back, and since then have been searching for the perfect piece to collaborate on again. He had been searching for quite some time for a piece by a New Zealand playwright which he connected with, and literally stumbled onto this play, quite by chance, through a family connection. We had all heard of Gary Henderson, and seen or read his other work, but this play seemed to have something special. David has worked with Hoy Polloy a number of times in the past, and gave it to Wayne Pearn, Hoy Polloy’s Artistic Director to have a read. He instantly fell in love with it, and it also ignited a long awaited want to get back on stage, after a decade-long sabbatical, steering the company and directing it’s plays. That’s where I came in, and the rest, they say, is history.”
Henderson’s play is described as a compelling investigation of truth, consequences, and the ultimate value of human life. There are some awful secrets buried within this tale and many twists and turns along the way. Directors need an ‘in’ into the work they will live with and help bring to life so what was this ‘in’ for Finney: “I’ve always been wary (either as an actor, or a spectator) of plays which have a ’twist’. The thing that initially struck me when reading An Unseasonable Fall Of Snow for the first time, is that the ‘reveal’, written two-thirds through the play, is not its climax. Without giving away too much, Henderson’s focus on the character’s journey shines through, allowing us to connect with it on a more human level, rather than be wowed by theatrical conventions and trickery.”
Finney has had to make his transition from actor to director fairly rapidly. This means that focus changes and communication becomes paramount. “The initial personal challenge has been to find a universal vocabulary to outlay my vision of the play to the actors,” he says. “Having always been on the receiving end of direction, this has been a rewarding exercise. As with all high-stakes, fast and intense plays, the main challenge has been, “Don’t play the end of the play at the beginning”. We want the audience to be genuinely surprised by the unfolding of the big secret, rather than to see it coming.”
The play is essentially a dark piece, but, says Finney “our desire is that we have found enough humour and lightness within the play for audiences to take some hope away with them. The words which come to my mind when trying to describe this production are in danger of sounding like a new Tim Burton film, but I’ll give it a go: It’s Dark, intense, fast, energetic, moving, funny, sexy, bewildering, physical, sad, dramatic and bleak. It never let’s up, has a frenetic pace and will have you on the edge of your seat until the last act. And hopefully, you won’t see it coming!”
An Unseasonable Fall of Snow plays till May 19 at the Mechanics Institute Performing Arts centre Brunswick