Will Eno’s wonderful exercise in talking about what people find the hardest to talk about – death and dying – comes to brilliant life at Red Stitch Actors Theatre later this month. Wakey Wakey is award winning Eno’s latest work and delves into these oft taboo, and always difficult, topics with humour, simplicity and humanity.
Actor (and Red Stitch ensemble member) Justin Hosking plays Eno’s ailing protagonist who instructs us that there is life amongst death and it is worth living for.
Hosking is no stranger to Eno, having performed in The Realistic Joneses for Red Stitch in 2017, so knows the playwright’s style and tempo. “The world’s that Will Eno creates are really amazing” says Hosking. “In this piece, here’s this guy, called Guy, who believes he’s coming to the end of his life. He’s talking to his family and friends about what he thinks constitutes a good life. In fact, how we should probably celebrate life. In that, there are really profound topics spoken about in really ordinary, relatable ways. I love this about the character. Grappling the big issues in ordinary ways…and trying to help others in the process.”
Eno’s simple, and in many ways gentle play, uses some effective devises to bring the truth of our shared human condition to the fore. Guy is an everyman, both in name and struggle – it’s what we choose to do with that struggle that resonates.
Says Hosking: “Guy is really all about relationships. He loves them and believes that they are the lifeblood of life. He’s never had massive career aspirations, to impress and make plenty of money. It’s the simple things in life that he takes the most joy out of. Watching people on a train station. Listening to kids talk. Much like Eno himself.”
“Guy is an organized man who believes he’s in the last moments of his life. In his imagination he’s located all the people from his life and gives them a spiel about how to live a good life. But he’s not prepared! It’s really difficult losing people in your life, and it’s so precious and great to have known them.”
Guy is, above all else, an optimist and champion for all things beyond himself. He cares. He empathizes. He loves. Hosking acknowledges that throughout the piece Guy may not always be comfortable with his situation, yet he’s always trying to enlighten and inspire his audience to live a great life – before they’re gone. Hosking admires his strength and positivity in his adversity. The way he puts others before himself.
The play is inextricably about the end of life, but within that, Eno explores and celebrates life – real life and the art of living within the shadow of death.
“Without trying to sound clichéd, life and death are two sides of the same coin, ” says Hosking. “Eno’s showing that death is difficult, but the closer you get to death, the illuminosity of life is brighter. Living is more precious and miraculous and fleeting. It’s really a play celebrating life and being grateful. Perhaps he’s asking us to truly embrace living, and to do this, we must honour and confront death.”
Hosking’s first meaningful foray into the mind of Eno occurred during his work in The Realistic Joneses. Hosking loved the play, and decided to read more of his works to get a sense of who he was. It was within this process that Hosking became a fan. “I read Thom Pain (based on Nothing) – a Pulitzer nominee, and Title and Deed, ” says Hosking. ” Eno is renown for dealing with big cosmic questions into the small details of everyday living. I think someone said his work was “a factual presentation of a mystery.” I love this about his work. He also cleverly creates double entendres in his writing, as well as writing that can be played and understood in multiple ways. He’s very, very good.”
Wakey Wakey is a two-hander (also featuring guest actor to Red Stitch Nicole Nabout ) and an incredibly challenging piece for the actor playing Guy. It means being on stage for the entire show, and for Hosking, the greatest challenge has been the relentlessness of the rehearsal period and balancing this with family life – Hosking has two small children at home. “Usually, during rehearsals you can have a break and ponder your character, or a scene, or a moment. I haven’t had that luxury this time. Such is life,” he says.
Hosking acknowledges that Eno’s work is such that, as an actor, he always seems to be discovering. “Whether that’s finding something new in the way something is said, or something deeper in the meaning of a moment or a line,” he explains. “Sounds a little indulgent and deep when I say that, but it’s true.”
As an actor, Hosking loves stories that deal with the big questions in our lives, whether that be philosophically, or psychologically, or existentially. “I really enjoy clever, thinking pieces that straddle the factual and the mysterious, ” he says. ” I guess Eno’s perfect for me.”
“From a character perspective, I love to play characters that show one side of themselves but really have another side that is unrevealed to other characters, or to the audience, until a later part in the story. For example, Iago in Othello, or Edward Norton’s character Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear. Being able to show two completely different sides is very exciting as a performer.”
Hosking’s journey towards Red Stitch’s ensemble wall of fame has not been easy – and reads a little like the twelve Labours of Hercules – but an actor’s true grit and perseverance won the day – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I first auditioned to be part of the ensemble (a general audition) when the company was located in Inkerman St, in about 2004. I was unsuccessful. I auditioned again for the ensemble about 6 years later. I was unsuccessful. I was asked to come in to audition for a play called The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later I was unsuccessful. I was asked to come in to audition for a play called Midsummer – A Play With Songs. I was unsuccessful. In 2016, the company was casting Uncle Vanya and were looking to cast the role of Telegin. I was successful. In 2017, I auditioned for a part in Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses. I was successful. At the end of 2017, I was invited to join the ensemble. I accepted.”
Wakey Wakey is just that – a wakeup call to all that life has to offer. As hard as it is to talk about death, it is ultimately a play about living a good life – scary, absurd, adventurous and funny- life!
“Wakey Wakey is truly a play that celebrates living and all that it encompasses,” says Hosking. “Life is difficult, but by-god it’s precious, fleeting, miraculous and amazing.”
April 28 – May 19