Australian playwright Hannie Rayson’s Falling From Grace is a complex tale that explores (and extends)  the bonds of female friendship but, fear not,  it offers much more than just a feminist tale – flirting heavily with moral and ethical issues – it delivers a gamut of engagement for discerning audiences.

For Victorian Drama League Award Winning Director, Natasha Boyd, the play satisfies much of her criteria when seeking out a piece to immerse herself in.

“I love Australian plays and plays that showcase women’s experiences, as well as plays that are new or haven’t been seen for a while,” says Boyd. “This play fulfilled all criteria – I think the last time it was seen on the circuit was about 8 years ago . I love that it shows women in all their facets – both their personal and professional lives. There was also the added bonus of seeing these three main women interact with the men in their lives, other women. These relationship interactions also allowed scope for the exploration of mother / daughter conversations and was something I hadn’t tackled before and thought it would be an interesting thing to work on with the two actors involved. I also wanted the challenge of taking on a play with multiple scenes and trying to present it as seamlessly as possible. My last few shows have all be in one venue set pieces so I wanted to look at how minimising long scene changes, that would sap the energy, can be overcome. It is something that has annoyed me in the last few years when I’ve been an audience member and I thought I better put my money where my mouth is so to speak!”

Rayson explores a number of contemporarily universal themes in a play that spans some 30 scenes. “I really love how we see the characters trying to balance their private and work life, some more successfully than others, ” says Boyd, whose passion for the piece is palpable. “It also deals with the choices we have to make, and how that often can affect others in both good and bad ways. Even though the play was written and set in 1994, we have been given permission by Rayson to update some of the names and references and it really shows how contemporary these themes and considerations are. Indeed, medical research and possible fudging of results is still highly relevant as is its broad themes of family, friendship, secrets, and affairs. Another fun aspect is how our the more involved we delve into the story our minds change about the issues and characters. It’s not that the characters are necessarily deceptive all the time, but just that Rayson has decided what she wants us to see first from certain characters as opposed to others. We see the three main women Susannah, Brock and Maggie in their personal life as friends and then how their work life puts pressure on that friendship. Whereas Dr Miriam and Dr Hugh are showcased in their work environments until we later see them in a home capacity and the strain that ensues, whilst the character of Michael is perhaps the most perplexing in terms of how and where we first see him and who he ends up being. I think having snapshots of these subjects make it a compelling experience for the audience, and will get them to question who do they believe and how would they react in similar circumstances because it is so relatable.”

While an interesting technique for the audience in terms of variety, multiple scenes can be problematic, but Boyd and the other creatives have taken up the challenge with a group of  co-ordinated and streamlined devices.

“Rayson is known, like many Australian writers, for having multiple scenes which is great for TV or film but makes it trickier for the stage so probably the main challenge was how to make the scenes seamless and not dragging the momentum for the audience,” poses Boyd. “Jarrod, the assistant director, and I have overcome this by working closely with Barb Baynton, the set designer, Scott Hasse, the lighting designer and Russell Servis the sound designer over many conversations and beverages as to how best achieve this. Sometimes we have been able to simply use cross fades, other times there is a fade out with short grab of music, whilst other times the furniture choices and positioning as been made quite carefully. We are lucky that Mount Players as a wide and deep stage so this made our task easier as we had a raised platform for the hospital and medical office scenes ably constructed by Leo Vandevalk, Hanz and Ben Lawrance. In addition the cast have worked really hard to be fully absorbed in the scenes they are in and sometimes in a tight space (which range from 2minutes-10minutes). Also being aware of what costume and props can be readied for their next moment was something we all had to consider and costume designer Debra Moore has also played an integral part in making sure that the cast feel comfortable with what they are having to do in the wings or on stage in their short changeovers. And whilst making it seamless is the priority we have also had to be mindful of not going too fast, thereby allowing the audience to absorb what is happening and where. I’ve asked a few trusted people to watch some earlier rehearsals to see if it is not confusing and holds together well, and thankfully it seems like we are on the right track.”

Boyd’s approach to choosing plays that she would like to stage is multi-layered, but first and foremost it is about putting herself into the audience’s head space.

“I often think about what do I find compelling to watch, what do I want to see and usually it is something fresh; be it a new work or something that hasn’t been seen for a while, ” she says. “I love not being influenced by other recent productions, and allowing myself and the actors to make our own fresh interpretations of the story and roles. I also love Australian plays (and reading Australian novels) because it is our own experiences and stories reflected back to us and make us feel understood, or in some cases see something in our own environment that we haven’t considered before. Theatre can be life changing and life affecting  – it can be the generator for conversation, social and political change as well as just enjoyment so contributing to the world of theatre in this way makes me happy and fulfilled creatively and personally. Finally, as an actress and director there simply are not enough roles and stories on stage for showcasing the talents of so many women I know and don’t know. I often say for every male I would have at an audition I would have 10 fantastic women. Call-backs are fine and I am quite good at keeping touch with actors who I see in an audition but don’t cast because sometimes you know there will be the right project to work together (indeed that happened with this play for the actor playing Brock who had auditioned for me late last year for another play). But I always thinking what plays can I do – good and worthy plays -that would showcase these female talents, so I read A LOT of plays and not just plays that are all women, but that have strong  and varied roles for women and not just side cliché parts like some classics.”

Boyd is a great proponent of Australian theatre and plays – sharing her love of literature to the world under her Book Bonding Bookstores in both Essendon and Gisborne – she believes that we as Australian thespians have an obligation to share our own stories.

“It annoys me that there is an emphasis on the somehow greater value of say great American classics or just rehashing old English comedies and what that these show of the actors’ talents,” says Boyd. “Of course, I am not adverse to them as a whole having directed some in the past myself, but I just think it should be a consideration of all theatre companies to at least make an effort to include one Aussie work in their season if possible. Of course, the quality of the writing, story and characters have to stand as solid as the others and we shouldn’t just be making them a token inclusion – but there is so much great writing out there – people just have to go look for it, read it, and then want to stage it. Ultimately, if we don’t value our own culture, who will?”

Falling From Grace opens in Macedon later this month and, according to Boyd, is a must see show.

“This production really showcases a great range of talent – with four new faces on the Macedon stage and four regulars that people have enjoyed in other productions. We have all enjoyed the challenge of working with this intriguing and multifaceted story and I think people will be impressed with the range of emotions that this play encompasses – humour, romantic banter, uncertainty, playfulness, aggravation, poignancy, heartbreak, fallout and tension. Setting this show in a contemporary setting means the audience will identify with the familiar as well as being engaged in a story that will make you question their own motives and reactions to the situations presented. There is also not just the notable talent of those on stage but also the technical production skill of those behind the scenes. We know Macedon can be cold, and it’s half an hour from Essendon up the Calder Hwy but we guarantee it will be warm inside and well worth the visit, plus there’s a bar in the foyer!”

August 19 – September 10