The Poppyseed Festival is now in its second year and, hot on the heels of last year’s success, it is set to deliver four ambitious new works. The first is by highly lauded indie company, Attic Erratic, who are set to launch the festival with Fleur Kilpatrick’s new work, Blessed.
Prolific playwright and director, Kilpatrick, began writing the piece in December 2013, which, she says, feels a long time ago. The inspiration was a song by the band Elbow. “There was a lyric ‘And Jesus is a Rochdale girl, forty-five CDs, got a house that you can smoke in’. I’ve always been fascinated by Bible stories and the humanising of these characters, who have become so deified that the human emotions, confusion or anger in the stories becomes muted; a parable rather than someone’s reality,” says Kilpatrick. “This line conjured up a gritty Bible, one that was simultaneously less appealing but more welcoming than King James: a modern day, filthy saint.”
“That day, the characters walked onto the page almost fully developed. Whilst the play itself took a lot of work and its form required much careful experimentation, the voices of these two, Maggie and Grey, were always so clear. They demanded life so I just kept writing. “
This is Kilpatrick’s second Biblical adaptation so that might be the closest she has to a theme. She admits to being drawn to the Bible as a source material in the same way that other theatre-makers are drawn to The Greeks but the Bible is still at the heart of our atheistic society. “I am not religious but I went to a religious school. I remember being confused by how few questions were asked of the text: how does she feel about that? Did he just accept the task or did he fight back? Did everyone listen to him? Did Joseph believe her from the start or did he think is was all a bit fishy? I love that I get to re-discover the humanity in these stories.”
“There is a beautiful quote by Viktor Shklovski that sums up this re-discovery for me: “Habitualisation devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.” The Bible is the ultimate habitualised text. It is so familiar that it has become muted but its familiarity also means that each audience member enters the space with a pre-existing connection to the source material.”
“Aside from the Bible, I don’t think I have themes (although some people might disagree). I think my love of language and rhythm are perhaps the most consistent aspects of my work. My friends could pick my dialogue out of a line up but probably not my plots.”
Blessed seems to be a story of the universal need to search beyond ourselves to glean understanding about the world around us and our part in it. It ultimately asks: where does love end in the face of much larger responsibilities?
Kilpatrick explains that in large part, it is about inescapable, intergenerational poverty. “It is partly about the stagnation of these two characters, whose lives barely changed between the ages of 15 and 30, but it is also their strength: they may not change much but they do survive with little to no support,” she says.
“There is a quote on the front page of this script: “The age of entitlement is over. It has been replaced, not with an age of austerity, but an age of opportunity.” That was Joe Hockey at the first Abbott budget. When I wrote this, I was fuming at the disregard and disrespect our society had for those struggling financially and the way in which we were embarrassed to meet their eyes on public transport.”
Kilpatrick’s hope is that people listen and look harder at the parts of our society that makes them uncomfortable and that they see the humanity in these two, people we would force out to the edges of our cities and write off.
Research meant spending a lot of time with religious imagery. Centuries of it, in fact, as well as light: the way that light glorifies a moment and turns it from the every day into the Holy.
“Perhaps the aspect of the art that most intrigued me were the facial expressions of the women: turned down, demure, passive or upturned, bathed in a Holy glow, hands up-stretched, an expression of ecstasy on their pale faces,” she says. “For centuries their eyes never met mine. They didn’t stare out of the frame or demand anything from me. I wanted some eye contact: a Saint or Martyr that would lock on and say ‘are you serious? What’s up with this?'”
The Poppyseed festival has very quickly become a very prestigious event with many companies pitching to win a spot. For Kilpatrick and team it became as simple as this: “We pitched to a (very) large panel of industry professionals and told them all how great it would be. They believed us.”
‘We’, is Danny Delahunty, the director, and Kilpatrick who have collaborated many times and have a relationship built on trust. ” I was actually in Queensland for almost the entire rehearsal period for our last collaboration, The City They Burned and I’m very aware of how fortunate I am to be able to do this, certain that my beloved play is in excellent hands. It has been terrific to go through this whole process – planning, pitching, producing – with him,” she says.
“I’m so delighted to be a part of this festival. I love the other artists dearly (I share a studio with Morgan Rose from Riot Stage and work regularly with Yvonne Virsik of Hotel Now) so we are very invested in each others work and success. That is a beautiful feeling to go into a festival with.”
“I’m immensely grateful to the festival for their support of this play. I was so frightened that it would become another of these Australian plays which has multiple developments, wins a major award and then sits in a folder of the playwright’s computer for decades. I’m only just getting to the ‘excitement’ stage. For months there I was all ‘relief’. I so badly want to see it on a stage.”
Kilpatrick acknowledges the outstanding team and could not be a happier with the cast and designers. “Danny is an outstanding director and incredibly skilled at bringing together the skills of the company to make one very unified production, in which every element is working together to realise the same vision,” she says. “Plus, laughs, tears, dirty talk, religion and the most well-timed use of the word ‘vag’ I’ve ever written. So that’s a thing.”
November 8 – 20