The City They Burned pays homage to the book of Genesis and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the unfortunate undoing of Lot’s wife, who looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. These are the stories of Genesis – the stories of the beginning.
Director Danny Delahunty acknowledges the political slant of the play, but says the themes have engendered a lot of passionate conversation with the play’s past season.
Delahunty explains: “The narrative is superficially concerned with shutting down a local manufacturing plant in favour of offshore operations, but is conceptually concerned with a set of more important themes: the imposition of power from one entity onto another, the different types of control and how they manifest, and the ways in which the structure of our society have a need to continually create power dynamics. These wider themes are hugely important because we ask our audience to consider the building blocks of our society and elements that form the very foundation of everything we do; we want them to not only consider, but to ask themselves – is this the best way of doing things?”
“At its heart this is a text that investigates and interrogates our society’s relationship to power and to gender: how masculinity is often expressed as control – as a physical presence that requires dominance to prove its existence. We seek to stimulate discussion on rape culture, and its relationship to the aggressive foundations of business operations and patriarchal community structures. These concepts are visited in various ways, avoiding the clichés of issues-based theatre by crafting a parable about the imposition of power for personal gain and self-interest. It’s essential that as a society we consider and explore what we are fundamentally failing at and ask ourselves what aspects of our own lives are supporting this culture. But it’s just as important to not provide a conclusion for our audience – they need to take their own path and find an answer unique to them. Layered into these primary themes are secondary explorations of: class, progression vs. conservatism, environmentalism and the traditional family unit.”
When the company presented the first season of this show in 2014, they were lucky enough to get some amazing word of mouth and media attention, and as a result sold out 17 of their 19 shows. “With a bit of negotiation we managed to squeeze in an extra three shows, which then sold out in a matter of hours,” says Delahunty.”There were many of our dedicated fans who were caught off-guard by this and missed out on the show, and at the time we discussed coming back together in 2015 for a return Melbourne season – but knew deep down this was unlikely to happen. But when we were offered a spot in the 2015 Brisbane Festival program we suddenly had the excuse (and the funding) to come back together. We were all thrilled to get back in the room again to work on this text, and are looking forward to sharing this show with a new group of people. The way things are going it looks likely that we’ll reach another sold-out season, and with nine actors involved I doubt we’ll be bringing this text to life again next year, so we’re enjoying every moment of it while we can.”
Delahunty is the joint artistic director of Attic Erratic, and founded the company along with a group of his peers (theatre maker Celeste Cody among them) in 2010.
“At the time we created Attic Erratic there were far fewer independent theatre companies active on the scene and as artists we wanted to define an umbrella that would stand for the type of work we were to create: active, engaging and thought-provoking work that has been thoroughly developed,” says Delahunty.”We almost exclusively produce new writing, working directly with the playwrights through long creative development processes prior to assessing whether a work is ready to be taken to the stage. Often, as is the case with The City They Burned, this process can take several years, and in this way we have managed to avoid ever bringing to stage a production that wasn’t fully developed and professionally presented. We value our audience’s time and attention, and only ask them to enter a room with us when we know what we have produced would have a great impact on their lives.”
For Delahunty, good theatre has two main elements: it is presented in a way that keeps audiences engaged with the work, and it facilitates a point of enquiry rather than arriving at a conclusion. “As a theatregoer I am most excited by work that encourages me to think deeply about something that I hadn’t previously given much consideration, whether it be a 10 minute comic piece or a 2 hour drama. As a director the very best I can do is create work that I would personally find thrilling, enticing, challenging and engaging, and The City They Burned is definitely that for me.”
“When it was pitched to Attic Erratic as a concept I was immediately drawn towards the narrative content and the ability this story could have to stimulate very important conversations. For me, there is no stronger rationale for making live work. It appeals to me primarily because it challenges the audience to confront ideas that many people would not freely turn their minds to or discuss in day-to-day conversation, and it does so in a unique way that refuses to let the audience’s attention lapse.”
Delahunty describes The City They Burned as: as much an experience as it is theatre: “..it is a world to be walked through and then be barred from. It is beautiful, poetic and there are even moments of sublime joy; but there is also an underlying danger. Each night we challenge the audience/performer relationship in a subversion of attention – we give you power, allow you the conceit of control, and then strip it away from you. You’re safe from cheesy participation or being singled out, but not from culpability for the acts you’re complicit in. As a group the audience will have to consider what they would do in a given situation, then confront the reality of their choices.”
“By blending experiential theatre with some of the finest crafted scriptwriting I’ve come across, we force our audience to parallel the journey of the main characters – from feeling like they are free and in control of their world, to realising they are players in a game they don’t know the rules to.”
“So no – don’t come see it, come experience it. And be prepared to have a lot to think about when you leave the theatre.”
Perhaps it may also be wise to not look back…
Sep 8 – 13