From 18 March, New Ghosts Theatre Company & the IGNITE Collective will present the world premiere season of girl friend, a new work by Green Room Award nominee and resident playwright Natesha Somasundaram, playing as part of Belvoir’s 25A season.

Inspired by the 1997 murder of university student Joe Cinque, girl friend is a darkly hilarious traipse into what happens to the best of us, when we become the worst of us.

girl friend stars Vaishnavi Suryaprakash (Life of Galileo, Sami in Paradise and Helpmann Award winner for Counting and Cracking – Belvoir, Moby Dick– Sport For Jove), and Nikita Waldron (Lord of the Flies and Mosquitoes – Sydney Theatre Company, The Wolves and An Enemy of the People – Belvoir) and is directed by Claudia Barrie (Dry Land – Kings Cross Theatre, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and The Cripple of Inishmaan  – Old Fitz Theatre, Girl in the Machine – National Theatre of Parramatta).

Theatre People asked girl friend co-star Nikita Waldron to share some insights into the work, its development, and what audiences can expect when it takes the stage in less than three weeks’ time.

Theatre People: Did you know much about the murder of Joe Cinque before signing on for this production?

Nikita Waldron: I knew absolutely nothing until Natesha, Claudia and our producers had a group Skype chat and the idea was floated to Vaishnavi and myself. Back then I think we were looking at doing it in 2021 but the concept seemed too bizarrely intriguing to keep it under wraps for another year.

TP: Tell me about your initial impressions of Natesha Somasundaram’s play after reading it for the first time? 

NW: I was pretty excited. We’d been in development for some time but once Natesha solidified the first 20 or so pages, the rest of the play came at the speed of light. We all looked at each other after the read of the first complete draft and were like, ‘Yep, we’ve got a show’. To say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or read is an understatement. It’s completely absurd. It taps into a range of issues about what it means to be a good person in this day and age, given our constant access to and complete overload of information. People can’t get away with pretending they don’t know the indirect consequences of their actions. It begs the question: can you get away with enabling a murderer when we’re all accomplices to destruction in some capacity?

TP: Can you provide an insight into the storyline that girl friend follows, and can you talk about the role that you’re playing?

NW: girl friend takes place in a supermarket, 20 years after the murder of Joe Cinque. It’s not known what happened to Madhavi. We can assume that she skipped town, changed her name and appearance and tries her best to live a normal life. She was after all, a nice enough person … murder enabling aside. The story line is abstract and there are so many twists and turns. Essentially it takes place over the course of a few weeks. Two women keep running into each other in a supermarket. My character never reveals her name, but I am a woman who keeps prodding Madhavi, trying to get her to admit what she’s done and repent for her crime. Without giving too much away, my role is unique in that in shifting tactics to get Madhavi to admit her crime, I get to adopt all sorts of different personas and energies. I’ve never played a character like this before. There are no rules, really, but there is a logic to the world.

TP: Why do you think the story of Joe Cinque’s murder and the events surrounding it are important to share with Australian theatre audiences in 2020? 

NW: Murder is deemed the worst crime in the Crimes Act. And I think this murder, carried out by two Indian law students in their mid-20s is scarily close to home. Natesha said largely what inspired her is being a young South Asian woman herself, also in her mid-20s who came from similar circumstances and wondering, had a few variables been different, could this have been her? Are we all Madhavis with what we enable and choose to ignore? As an Indian-Australian who went to ANU, this story is one I cannot seem to shake either. The play is set in 2020, more than 20 years later, but the same questions still hang in the air: Why did Madhavi get away with what she did? What does that say about our justice system? What makes a good person? Why do objectively bad people think that they’re good people because they’re not the worst out there? In Germany there is a ‘Duty to Rescue’ clause but in Australia, nothing compels you to be a good Samaritan. It presses the audience to question their own part in enabling cruelty in the world.

TP: Can you provide an insight into the way in which the script has developed since you first joined the project?

NW: From the outset Natesha was adamant she wanted to explore this through an absurdist lens and in a supermarket. Initially we were playing the roles of Anu and Madhavi, in the midst of the dinner party during which Joe Cinque’s murder was carried out. The biggest change is that this play now solely revolves around Madhavi’s journey, which through the process of development has become solidified – there is clarity amongst the chaos as to what the piece is really saying. I think it’s more interesting to look at this crime from our 2020 lens, where so much is at stake and in disarray in our world. And to delve into Madhavi’s story, who, like her part in the unfathomable crime, is easily forgotten.

TP: Are you excited about the fact there are more absurdist and surrealist elements now incorporated into the play? 

NW: Definitely! There is so much absurdity and many challenges for Claudia in bringing it all to life. There are many hilarious and clever and ridiculous moments, so I think the audience is in for a real treat.

TP: Can you tell me about your experience to date working with Claudia Barrie on this project and what she brings to Natesha Somasundaram’s text? 

NW: I hadn’t worked with Claudia previously. I was instantly struck by her openness and intelligence in shaping this piece. Developing is not an easy process, but she was exceptionally good at asking the right questions and ensuring we hit the right marks to chart Madhavi’s journey.

TP: What would you say has been or will be the biggest challenge for you in bringing your role to the stage? 

NW: Absurdism is a style I’m not familiar working with, even though I’m loving it so far. I guess the main challenge, and this is going to sound very drama school of me, is really understanding each and every motivation behind my character’s actions and words. She’s manipulative and always 10 steps ahead, so I need that clarity, otherwise, I fear it’ll get lost amongst the bizarreness of it all. But I am equally really confident in using this style. After all, the way the murder was carried out and its consequences are incredibly absurd.

TP: What do you hope audiences will take away from their experience seeing the world premiere production of girl friend at Belvoir?

NW: A really entertaining night of theatre. They might view the murder of Joe Cinque differently. Or they might have no knowledge of the crime itself but still be inclined to think about a few big issues and moral dilemmas. Or they might leave it all at the door and go about their lives. That’s kind of what it’s all about anyway. Either way, it’s a brilliant piece of writing and it could be a long time before you see this Indian duo up on stage together. Honestly, how often do you get to act opposite one of your closest friends from drama school on such a spicy piece of writing?!

GIRL FRIEND – SEASON DETAILS

SEASON: 18 March – 4 April 2020
VENUE: Belvoir Street Theatre (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
TICKETS: $20 – $25 (+booking fee)
ONLINE BOOKINGS HERE

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