” The script is always the starting point.” -Kim Hardwick.
White Box Theatre are championing the theatre writer via their signature emotionally-engulfing productions. They have so far steadily enacted a vision to support Australian writers, emerging and otherwise, and an aim to produce stories about the communities in which we live – depicted on both local and global scales of context. The current target right now is the award-winning classic Australian play by Nick Enright, Blackrock – soon to assault the heart, the mind and the senses this March at The Seymour Centre.
Director, Kim Harwdwick unpacks for us the story and process behind bringing this powerful and enduring production to the stage, based around the events of a real 1989 murder:
What do you feel we (may) have to gain by examining such unnerving topics, and ‘inhuman’ acts, as depicted in the darkly-fueled Blackrock and what do you feel we might be able to glean by (re)telling these stories?
It’s certainly true that Blackrock examines the lead up and consequences of a horrific event, and by making that examination I hope the audience can reflect on their personal and communal responsibility.
I’m not sure that it’s as simple as a ‘(re)telling’… I feel that every time a ‘classic’ is remounted it can speak a little differently to an audience than previous productions.
Truth & Fiction – knowing the play’s inception grew from a real-life event and tragedy – do you as a director take the real-life account on board and into mind…?
Of course I have researched the event but my understanding is that although Nick (the playwright) used the real-life event as an inspiration, his intention was to comment more broadly on issues like mate-ship, communication between the genders, and the objectification of women.
There are numerous quotes from Nick emphasising his desire that Blackrock not be seen as an historical account, but rather as an impetus for further discussion.
Do you find it hard at all to engage in representing such (wrought, hard) material on stage, for stage?
Not at all. It tends to be my ‘comfort zone’.
I have a ridiculous fear of comedy and farce, but this kind of material always seems to call me.
Is there a moment in particular in the story you find hardest to spend time with?
At this stage the party itself is proving a battleground between the requirements of the story and my moral compass. I have to keep reminding myself that my responsibility is in telling the story as truthfully as I can, and to leave my judgement at the door.
Have (any) cast struggled in portraying this story?
To some extent I think we have all (cast, creatives, crew) struggled to bring this story to the stage. Often the characters are undertaking or being subject to behaviours that are criminal, or at the very least morally neglectful. The treatment of the female characters is particularly distressing, and the male characters are bound by a corrupted version of friendship that manifests itself in an emotional paucity.
How do you approach any possible performer’s fears/inhibitions/insecurities?
We laugh a lot!
I try to create an environment where everyone has an equal right to speak, where there’s no judgement and everyone is patient.
I think we all understand that our greatest strength is in collaboration.
Is there a character/perspective you strongly resonate with as an individual?
That would reveal way too much!
What do you see as the ultimate message of the play?
Personal accountability, loss, emotional repression and mate-ship.
For me…perhaps it’s best summed up by ‘take a stand’.
There is such high regard, and longevity, for this play, do you think this is due to its quality of writing; or its content/context; or both?
Both. Nick’s works can appear deceptively simple. When you look deeper they are complex works that give us insight in to the human psyche, and perhaps most importantly, they place that insight within an Australian context.
What do you look for in a script as a director…?
The script is always the starting point. I don’t ‘look’ for anything per se. When I read a script, I try to experience it as an audience would…for the first time. And if it manages to keep me curious then I’m hooked!
Then I dig a little deeper to examine the authenticity of the writer’s ‘voice’. I’m not referring to the thoroughness of the research, or the wit of the writing, etc. but whether I can sense that the writer has something to express.
Complementing that, is whether I can find an imaginative and emotional centre to the work that facilitates me trusting the play.
What other directors’ work/s appeal/speak to you?
Ivo Van Hove, Julie Taymor, Asghar Farhadi, Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, Stefanos Rassios…
All are very different directors but there are elements I admire about all.
Are you easily able to slide back into your own everyday life at the end of a Blackrock Day?
No. But I would say that during the rehearsal period every play captures me. I think audiences forget that not only is it the actors that are being seen on the stage but also the director and the designers. The way I choose to interpret a script is in direct response to my experiences and beliefs. Those things can’t be avoided when you leave the rehearsal room. I’m often on a train/driving/sitting, and find myself in the world of the play.
The other night I had an experience that I know wouldn’t have resonated as it did except for the fact that I’m in the midst of Blackrock.
Up next is a new work, I love You Now, by Jeannette Cronin, at the Eternity Playhouse. Then there’s a revival of Hurt, by Catherine McKinnon, at Hothouse Theatre and Downstairs Belvoir. And hot on the heels of that is They Shoot Horses Don’t They, which will be produced by Sport For Jove.
After that, I’m hiding under a rock!
Peter Maple – Theatre Now and Talking Arts
Original publish date, February 28, 2017.