"Too often we see British and American cultures being represented on stage and screen. When a well written Australian play arrives it is difficult for me not to raise its profile with Play Selection Committees. This play is written in such a way that the characters are real in that they have strengths and weaknesses that we all have in different measures. We are the product of our upbringing and of the past experiences that shape our responses to current issues." John Mills.
This sentiment follows very closely on the heels of a plea passionately made by Australian playwright Hannie Rayson at the recent VDL Awards. All theatre companies present were encouraged to present more Australian works and it seems 1812, and director Mills, have found another Aussie diamond.
Mills reveals that despite The Peach Season having a distinctly Australian feel, it deals with universal issues which most audience members would relate to; the relationship between a mother and her daughter, the rebellious teenager, ‘young love’ and chance events that can affect these relationships.
"We have all heard a clichéd Australian accent as portrayed by actors from Meryl Streep to characters in The Simpsons, says Mills. "Some of the characters in The Peach Season are from deprived, uneducated backgrounds. To get educated actors to capture the rhythms and accents of their characters has been a learning curve requiring extra rehearsal, and who would believe that an actor who has done three American plays in a row would have so much trouble regaining his Australian accent!"
For Mills, as with most directors, it is exciting for him to be working with a cast of experienced and less experienced people. With character ages ranging from ‘70’ to ‘16’ years of age, and a cast of six, Mills certainly has an extensive range to play with.
"I already had in mind people who I thought could play the older parts, people with emotional depth who could tap into that inner ‘something’ and draw from it to bring the character to life. All of the characters go on an ‘emotional journey’".
The Peach Season is said to evoke the heat, scent and hard slog of a peach farm at harvest time. Further intrigue is added when a desperate brother and sister turn up looking for picking work which triggers strong feelings, bad decisions and danger. The story centres around Celia who fled the city with baby Zoe after the murder of her husband, an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mills explains: "The character of Celia requires the portrayal of a pregnant mother who lost her husband to a random shooting. She becomes over protective of her daughter, now at the age of 16. The mother and daughter have a loving, open relationship until an itinerant worker takes the daughter’s affections and they run away. The transformation of the mother from soft and secure to traumatised is a wonderful piece of character development ably portrayed by Sonia Wilson. The two younger members have shown a real enthusiasm for theatre, being open to suggestion and also drawing on an emotional intelligence that the parts call for. It was at the auditions that I wanted to see signs that the actors could bring a variety of emotions to the part and show an ability to relate to other actors in an honest way."
"In taking on The Peach Season The 1812 Theatre has had to learn how to take on new technologies. I wanted to go further than to bring Australian culture to the fore. I wanted to create on stage, the mood and expansiveness of the Australian landscape. To achieve this we have a 7 metre scrim dividing upstage from downstage. The scrim makes the peach orchard behind seem distant from the house and packing shed in the foreground. The use of lighting is used to create silhouettes of the orchard and actors giving a sense of distance. On the scrim itself we are using multiple projectors to throw atmospheric effects that reflect the expansiveness of country Australia. The opening scene includes a brilliant sunrise while night time scenes have a wonderful Milky Way arching over the action. This use of technology has been a real challenge for Rob Le Blond our technical person. We are setting off these transitions from day to night and into other settings with the use of environmental sound effects rather than music. In fact there is no music in the production at all, this also is a first for The 1812 Theatre."
Mills' involvement in The 1812 is ongoing. "As anyone involved in community theatre can attest, it can be a ‘bottomless pit’ as far as time demands are concerned. I will always be on the lookout for good Australian plays."
The Peach Season premiered at Sydney's Griffin Theatre Company in March 2006, was short-listed for the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards and won the 2005 Rodney Seaborn Playwright’s Award. It is a powerful and moving story reflecting our overwhelming desire to protect the ones we love.
Feb 26th –March 21st