Two masterful pieces of writing by two masterful writers comes to Red Stitch this month. Companion pieces from Green Room and AWGIE award-winning Tom Holloway (Red Sky Morning, Beyond the Neck) with Dead Centre and Olivier award-winning Simon Stephens with Sea Wall (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Birdland). Both pieces will centre around modern life, family, place and all that comes in-between.

Award-winning Julian Meyrick makes his Red Stitch directorial debut with this exciting project. His passion and voice for new Australian works is very well known. Read on as Meyrick gives insight into this current project and the wider, perhaps more salient, discussion about the significance of Australian works.

I have developed a lot of new plays. I’ve written about Australian drama, both as a dramaturge and a historian, and my directing involves working with a broad selection of playwrights. So it didn’t take much to persuade me to take on this project! I already had a three-year collaboration with Tom Holloway, on As We Forgive, a play we presented for the 10 Days on Island Festival in Tasmania in 2013. And Red Stitch was a company I hadn’t worked with before, so I was excited about working with different artists – artists who would challenge my assumptions and pat imaginative solutions.

‘The extraordinariness of ordinary life’ is a good way of summing up the terrain of both writers. Tom and Simon write about normal people. Of course, the rub is that the more you look at normal people the more you see the detail and movement within them – the fact that every one of us has a unique story to tell. The themes of the plays are the themes of (extra)ordinary life: love, loss, family, the desire to escape, the big questions that pass through our minds like cloud formations – Is there a God? Why are we on earth? What do we owe each other? The couple at the heart of the plays were happily married until an unforseen event changed everything they believed, and believed about themselves.

The works complement each other narratively, obviously, though they are from different time periods, and are told by different characters. The production builds a visual and aural world around the two plays to fuse them into a single theatrical experience. I had a Eureka moment a few months ago when I realised the pieces formed, in every way, one drama.

The way both Tom and Simon use language is very deceptive, very compelling. The plays seem so simple, just everyday language in action. But quickly we find ourselves in the middle of a tense, elaborate story. We think, ‘how did we get here? Nothing big seems to have happened, yet here we are, dealing with big things.’ It’s quite a ride. And masterly use of language is at the heart of it.

Dead Centre has a theme running through it that I won’t reveal save to say it speaks to the Australian zeitgeist, what we are all thinking at the moment, but not saying aloud. Sea Wall is a universal tale that could happen anywhere. Anyone can see these plays: young, old, Australian, non-Australian. They are completely accessible.

” Theatre is about relationships and good work comes out of good relationships.” Julian Meyrick

Australia is the only country that pretends to be more boring than it actually is. It’s self-image and self-promotion is very generic – the outback, fauna, sport, the sunny weather. Nobody mentions our complex history, our odd political structure, the strange headspace the population as a whole (a huge proportion of which comes from somewhere else) inhabits. Australian drama – on stage, TV or in film – is a supreme tool for exploring all this, for showing us our difficult soul. No other country needs a national drama more, because no other country buries its nature so deep beneath the surface of daily life.

Support for new drama takes two forms: money and relationships. Both cost, the first in dollars, the second in time and effort. Actually, you don’t need a lot of money to get more new work happening. But you do need considerable care and attention. Relationships matter. Theatre is about relationships and good work comes out of good relationships. The cooperative networks which exist between companies and artists in respect of new Australian drama – that’s the most important thing.

Melbourne has roughly the same number of theatre companies it did in 1987, when I first arrived, but in that time the city has grown 50%. Of course, there’s more stuff generally – festivals, Netflix, concerts, night markets etc. But quantitatively, the amount of Australian drama hasn’t increased in the way it might, or should. However, this is less important than the qualitative side of the problem: do we care about our drama? The attitude of most Australians to the national culture is spiritually slack. Sometime in the future, perhaps soon, this will be surely challenged. What we cannot value we are bound to lose. So it’s about the place of Australian drama in our hearts and minds. I think that was stronger back in the 1970s and early 1980s than in the so-called ‘global culture’ of the 2010s.

Dead Centre Sea Wall
July 17 – August 15