BottledSnail Productions return to The MTC Southbank Theatre this week with their latest offering: The Australian premiere of Maple and Vine, by Jordan Harrison. The show follows Katha and Ryu, a harried couple from New York who make the decision to go and lived in a gated community, that lives as if it is 1955. Escaping what has become a horrific experience in the 21st century, we say goodbye to therapists, lattes and fancy salads.

Theatrepeople spoke with the show’s lead actors Samuel Fung and Eleanor Morrison, who were both part of Bottled Snail’s production of Parade last year, about the show and their dual lives in theatre and the legal profession.

Morrison says the show may not sound relatable, but it tackles issues of happiness, freedom, responsibility and mental health in a clever and provocative way. I feel connected to the role because Katha’s story is a vehicle for addressing broader issues facing my generation and my generation in the legal industry in particular”, she says.

For Fung, the intrusiveness of technology was very relatable in the show. Fung, who plays Ryu, Katha’s Japanese American husband who gives up his job as a plastic surgeon to move from New York at his wife’s request. “I feel particularly connected to Ryu, not only because we share a similar upbringing, but also his frustration with the transience and non-connectedness of modern day life resonates with me”, he says.

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By day, Morrison is a dispute lawyer and Fung is a solicitor and migration agent. BottledSnail Productions was founded to be the theatre company for the legal industry in 2013, and has involved over 250 legal professional in creative projects to date. The company believes that providing opportunities to perform and create helps to promote balance within the legal profession, and gives back to the community, with the company raising over $40,000 for charity.

“My experience working in the legal industry has been that it attracts inquisitive, collaborative and ambitious people – so when you have a cast and creative team full of these people it’s pretty dynamic and exciting”, says Morrison. “Being involved with BottledSnail has shown me that there is a real depth of support in the legal community for people who want to be creative or try something new. I’ve found that investing in an activity outside my normal work routine has actually made me feel more engaged with my existing “work world”” she says.

For Fung, it is a break from the multi-tasking, rule following, and procedures that minimise risks and maximise benefits brought by an outcome for all parties, which he faces in his daily work. “Rehearsing for a show is somewhat the opposite – there are no rules, your only focus is the interpretation of the text and the only terrible muck up that can happen is if you are not putting something truthful out there. Performing keeps me fresh. It recharges me” he says.

This is the first time Maple and Vine will play in Australia, with Melbourne playing the lucky host to the premiere at The Lawler at MTC. For Morrison, it is a privilege to be involved. “Like our show Parade which was performed in early 2015, the narrative and the themes of the play are very important and the thought of being able to provoke fresh conversations for audience members is exciting”, she reflects.

Fung says it is liberating in a way, to not have to worry about meeting the expectations of a well known, often run show. “Knowing the show has never been produced before has freed us up to really take the show in a direction we think it ought to go” he says. “Of course, we try and return to the source and earlier drafts of the script to come up with an interpretation which respects the author. The only downside so far has been the constant struggle to use as few comparisons as possible when describing the show to others in fear of prejudicing them”.

The pair is looking forward to sharing the show with audiences, in particular, the opening and closing scenes, but also say to look out for the phone call and the jurisdictional (relating to power, authority and control- I did have to Google that!) error scene. “The production team has been nothing but professional in the way they have run this project, and he cast are all so dedicated and talented!” says Fung. “I’ve learnt so much just from watching them. Every Sunday is a treat because I get to see them in action”.

You can catch this Australian premiere production of Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine at the MTC Southbank Theatre from December 2-5.

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