Away by Michael Gow is basically the story of 3 families who go away for the summer holidays. It's not that simple though because it is actually a complex and richly textured story with many layers and meanings. This is why it is so popular with VCE study as Gow's script is filled with literary technique like allusions, symbolism and metaphor. We learn that all of these nuances are certainly not lost on Purely Pensive Productions director Luke Morrison as he guides us through his Away journey.
Michael Gow explores a number of themes in his play Away with a major one being the effects that the Vietnam War had on country, society and family. How relevant do you feel this theme to be to young Australians in 2011?
I feel the main relevance in regards to the war for young Australian's today is the loss of a loved one, how this affects a family unit, and how people deal with grief. Grief is one of those things that you don't know how it will affect a person, and can cause quite a conflict for the people who are left to deal with it. Having seen people deal with grief in my own family I know that this does strange things to people and all you can do is just be supportive and give people time to deal with it. In Away all the characters are dealing with some sort of struggle or grief, and in particular Coral and Tom.
The play is said to be one of the most widely produced Australian plays of all time and is often an inclusion in higher school curriculum. Can you talk a little about what you think makes this play so popular and what, in particular, was the attraction for you as its director?
I love the quintessential, retro Aussie feel of plays and films at this time – like 'Dags' and 'Puberty Blues' – and was really excited to work with a varied cast the had some great roles for young people. The presence of young people in an important Australian play is great for study; seeing young people around high school age deal with the issues of adult life – illness, grief, conflict – is an amazing opportunity for contemporary young audiences.
The play has quite a large cast comprising of 15 characters. Did you have any difficulty finding a cast to suit this requirement or have you opted to double up on some of the characters?
In fact we have separated out some of the roles – given Rick more prominence – and created a fun, theatrical and valuable ensemble for additional characters. I was thrilled at the number, diversity and energy of all those who auditioned and have found a fantastic cast featuring a range of ages and acting backgrounds – from students and teachers to first time actors!
Can you discuss your audition process and what it takes to make a successful auditionee?
At the initial audition, everyone read either a male or female monologue from the Michael Gow's script, presenting an interpretation of their chosen character. After this stage, character pairings and groupings were trialled and the final cast was chosen! I love to see an honest, brave but playful character interpretation and someone willing to experiment! It's always important to have people who can work well together but especially for this play, a small company and a collaborative environment!
What sort of pre preparation work do you do before starting the rehearsal process?
From my own time in VCE Drama and Theatre Studies, I've always started with a close reading (or readings!) of the script. I make heaps of notes about my interpretation or suggestions for the characters and some notes about aesthetic and emotional visions of the finished performance.
Has the play presented any challenges to yourself, the actors, the company and , if so, how have these been managed?
We have been extremely lucky and aside from usual time restraints and line-learning challenges we've had a fantastic experience! PPP have assembled a fantastic, capable production team and crew; everyone has worked really hard to make the show fantastic!
You are on the committee of PPP. Can you discuss how your involvement with the group began?
I first became involved with PPP after reading about auditions online and becoming a cast member in A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Mark Kearney last year. I had so much fun with fellow committee and cast members Jeremy Ives and Hannah McRae and working with the whole production team. They invited me to join the committee this year and I happily accepted! It's been a different, challenging experience working behind the scenes as committee member and director – maybe I'm more comfortable on the stage!!
Away is PPP's VDL entry for the year. Has this fact changed the way this particular production is handled and prepared at all and, if so, what are so some of the elements that go into creating an Award Entry play?
Creating a performance always starts with a great text and imagination – Award Entry or not! Away, even before the creative process begins, has amazing potential for actors, directors and designers; the colour and movement of Australia in the 60's provides great inspiration for all involved. Steph Ives, the costume designer, received a silver VDL award for her beautiful, experimental costumes on A Midsummer Night's Dream last year and I think Away has the same potential for costumes, set and the performance this year as well!
What fundamental message would you like the audiences to take with them after viewing the show?
That is for each individual audience member to find! I just hope everyone enjoys this colourful, powerful, funny and heartfelt production!
Where to for Luke Morrison after this production?
I'm currently in my first year of a Bachelor of Music in classical voice at Monash University which is so far inspiring, exciting and lots of hard work! Directly after Away's season, I will be performing in the musical Assassins by Stephen Sondheim, presented by the University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association. I can't wait to get back on the stage! I'm also auditioning to join the Victorian Youth Opera at the end of the year – fingers crossed! If all goes according to plan 2012 will be full of more theatre, music and study!
VENUE: Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre Cnr of Sydney and Glenlyon Roads, Brunswick DATES: Thursday 15th September @ 8pm Friday 16th September @ 8pm Saturday 17th September @ 2pm Saturday 17th September @ 8pm BOOKING INFO: http://www.purelypensive.com.au/tickets.php
Photographs by Jeremy Guzman