Venue: The Rebel Theatre (Sydney NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 9, 2022
Playwright: Julian Larnach (based on the novel by Favel Parrett)
Director: Ben Winspear
Cast: Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, Griffin McLaughlin
Images by Jesse Hunniford
On the isolated south-east coast of Tasmania, three brothers struggle with life after their mother’s death. The wild seascape is part of their chaos, with an unstable father being the indisputable cause of their daily anxieties. Julian Larnach’s adaptation of the novel Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett, brings to the stage a story of family, of youth and of masculinity. A challenging mixture of narration and dialogue forms the basis of this theatrical iteration. Instead of being assigned particular roles, all the characters are taken on by three performers, who swap their parts seemingly randomly, all through the show.
Directed by Ben Winspear, Past the Shallows requires of its audience an inordinate amount of concentration, but the experience is ultimately a satisfying one. There is a vividness to atmosphere and tension, made even more pronounced by the sense of confusion, that we encounter from the staging’s unusual device of interchanging actors. It is a representation of volatility that fits well within the themes of the play, and although disquieting for the audience, the performers emanate a confidence that helps sooth our nerves.
Video by Nema Adel is projected on the cyclorama, forming the literal and figurative backdrop to the brothers’ tumultuous story. Beautiful shot and edited, but not always bright enough or perhaps sharp enough in resolution, for greater impact. Lights by Jason James are sometimes in competition with said video, but is memorable for bringing drama when required, on a bare black stage. Keerthi Subramanyam’s set and costume designs are minimal, but they accurately convey the presentational style chosen for this gritty, no frills tale that deals in part with poverty. Sound by Glenn Richards is not always precisely rendered, but certainly delivers powerfully at key moments.
Actor Meg Clarke is astonishingly persuasive from start to end, extraordinarily present in whichever role she embodies. In Clarke we see an endless font of empathy and vulnerability, that wins us over comprehensively, in a show with many elements that threaten to alienate its audience. Ryan Hodson and Griffin McLaughlin may not equal in terms of depth for their portrayals, but both match with energy and dedication, in a work that impresses, with its very well-rehearsed degree of readiness.
In Past the Shallows, nature is beautiful, and terrifying. Similarly, and accordingly, humans are divine yet devastating, for we are nothing but a small adjunct modicum of this thing we understand to be nature. We imagine nature to have its purposes and its ways, yet we are given a certain element of will in how we wish to be, as humans within this scheme, of ecology and of destiny. It will forever be arguable if we do indeed have any bearing on the greater consequences, but the human conscience is real, and we always know deeply, that which is truly good and right.