The elephant in the theatre

If I need Wikipedia to explain ANYTHING, I suspect that there’s something wrong – especially when it’s a piece of theatre.

Far Away
Far Away

SaySix Theatre and Lil Artists are presenting Caryl Churchill’s Far Away at 45 Downstairs. Written in 1999, this is its first Australian production and takes it from a rolling English countryside to a thick and expansive Aussie rainforest.

Young Joan (in an honest and natural performance by 10-year-old Skylah Cox) is staying with her aunt (Caroline Lee) and uncle. After being woken by a human scream and investigating, her aunt tries to hide the truth before bringing the child into their secret.  Next Joan is an adult (Suzannah MacDonald) and starting her first job as a milliner, where she wins the attention of fellow-worker Todd (Paul Ashcroft) and begins to question why the hats are destroyed after the parades.

Churchill’s a writer whose personal and political politics are embodied in her writing, so don’t expect a clear and compelling story to pull you through. Her off-kilter world rejects logic and everything is at war; even nature is at war with itself. This is where Wiki helped me. I thought she was absurdly playing with language by using animal names; nup, the elephants are elephants. I liked it when I thought they were metaphorical word play…

The internet tells me this is an astonishing play, but this production isn’t sharing the astonishing. Dystopian absurdist post-modern writing is cool, but theatrical story-telling has to get out of the intellectual heads of its creators and into the hearts of its audience. The design is evocative, the hats are gorgeous and the performances bring us so close to caring and being involved, but it doesn’t take us into it’s own unique world.  I can see what Churchill was saying about the apathy of society and nightmare of war, but I don’t know what SaySix and Lil Artists are saying about us, our society, now or me.

Far Away
Review Date: Wednesday 25 April 2012
Presented By: SaySix Theatre and Lil Artists
Directed By: Justin Martin
Venue: Fortyfive Downstairs
Closing Date: 13/05/2012

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Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

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