Anthea Williams is well versed in directing new works for the stage. It’s actually her specialty.
Williams spent seven years as Associate Director – New Work at Belvoir, chalking up an impressive number of directorial and dramaturgical credits. Among her credits, she had a dramaturgy role on the 2017 Helpmann Award-winning Best Play, The Drover’s Wife, and was the director of Belvoir’s 2017 production of Hir, recently named Best Mainstage Play at the Sydney Theatre Awards. She also co-wrote and directed the critically-acclaimed Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin, which has toured Australia and the UK, and just announced a limited season at the Sydney Opera House in May.
Williams is now the director of the world premiere production of Flight Paths, a piece penned by award-winning Sydney-based playwright Julian Larnach. Opening next month at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres, it kicks off National Theatre of Parramatta’s third season and has a cast that includes Ebony Vagulans, Airlie Dodds, Monica Kumar, Richie Morris and Brandon McClelland.
Flight Paths is set over a week at Oxford University, as well as in the world’s largest slum. It’s a coming-of-age tale that examines privilege, families, mobility, Australia’s place in the world, and the consequences of charity.
But speaking to Theatre People, Williams says that there’s no critical message that those who attend are expected to take away from Flight Paths.
“What I actually love about it is that Julian says he wants to give the audience an experience, rather than tell them what to think,” she says.
“What the play is really good at doing is showing you how [the characters] all deal with this thing of how to live their lives, and it doesn’t tell you that anyone’s right or wrong. But it does open up a lot of misconceptions that people have about how certain things work, like how aid work works, how those very prestigious universities work, and at the end of it, you’re left to [consider], ‘What do I actually think about this?’”
Williams discusses what she finds most exciting about directing the world premiere of Flight Paths.
“I think often when you read plays, it’s a situation where there are lots of bad characters – there’s your Iago, there are these evil people doing evil things,” she says. “That’s not really, in my experience, what people are like.
“In this play, it’s a bunch of young people, all in their twenties or late teens, and they’re all actually trying to do their best by the world and by each other. But that’s a lot harder than it says on the cover. So, I think that’s what’s really interesting about it – it’s a bunch of international … characters and they are genuinely doing what they think is right, but that doesn’t mean there’s no conflict. I think that’s really exciting. And they’re really dynamic, really fun characters because they’re all really intelligent young people.”
Williams likens the challenge of taking on a new theatrical work to the experience of building a house.
“You’ve got the blue print, but you don’t quite know what it’s going to look like until you put it up on the floor,” she says.
“It’s a really fast-paced show. There are lots of really short scenes – I think the longest scene is four pages – so I have to figure out how to move us between Australia and Britain and Africa at lighting pace. That’s going to be interesting. But, actually, it’s also quite exciting because I’ve managed to talk National Theatre of Parramatta into letting us do the play traverse, so that the audience is on two sides. So, it’s quite a long, skinny stage that we’re going to get people to move across really fast.”
Williams describes working with the burgeoning National Theatre of Parramatta as having been “absolutely thrilling” and says it’s exciting to work with a company that is devoted to telling stories about people in the local region.
“A lot of the work I’ve done has been first productions [by] contemporary writers, and I think that’s really when theatre is at its best – when it’s looking at the same society, when it’s telling stories that have been written by locals, when it’s looking at what it is to be living today in the world and society, and how to do that responsibly … So, I think it’s fantastic that [National Theatre of Parramatta] are doing that.”
Williams adds: “It’s quite a rare opportunity as a director to get a call saying, ‘We’ve got this brand new play, we’d like you to direct it’. Usually, you get calls about things that’ve been hits elsewhere, and then [with] the new work, you’re kind of pushing saying, ‘I really believe in this, can someone else believe in this with me?’ So, it was really lovely to have that conversation inverted and have a whole bunch of people say, ‘We really love this and we really want you to do it’, and I read it and said, ‘Absolutely, this is a great play!’”
On the subject of target audiences for Flight Paths, Williams says the play has broad appeal.
“It’s dealing with questions that we all deal with, [such as] how to be responsible, how to live your life, [and] how to contribute to society,” she says.
“I think, of course, people in their twenties and thirties are going to be interested in the play but, at the same time … the character of Claire is dealing with questions that we all deal with all the time – ‘Why am I doing what I’m doing?’ ‘Is my work and my life meaningful?’ ‘Am I actually contributing?’ So, I think there are a lot of people older than that who are going to relate to that as well.”
FLIGHT PATHS – SEASON DETAILS
Dates and times:
Thursday 15 March – 7.30pm
Friday 16 March – 7:30pm
Saturday 17 March – 7:30pm
Tuesday 20 March – 7.30pm
Wednesday 21 March – 2.15pm
Thursday 22 March – 6.30pm
Friday 23 March – 7:30pm
Saturday 24 March – 2.15pm and 7.30pm
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Tickets: Adult $49, Concession $44
Available from the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members