Past The Shallows

14 Oct

Julian Larnach’s play is based on Favel Parrett’s novel of the same name.

Set in a Tasmanian coastal community, it tells the story of three brothers attempting to survive their abusive father.

Designer Keerthi Subramanyam gives the actors a simple, clear acting space that becomes, through the power of language and the evocative AV design of Nema Adel, the family home, the beach, the bush, the ocean.

Director Ben Winspear’s cast do beautiful work. The three actors – Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, and Griffin McLaughlin – play all the characters. Intriguingly, the roles of the three siblings – ten year old Harry, fifteen year old Miles and nineteen year old Tom – are shared, with the actors swapping from character to character, and sometimes a character’s physicality being presented by one actor and their voice by another. It’s all a tour de force of fine performance. Of course, it’s also rather confusing for someone attempting to get their head around the story. It’s a decision whose purpose appears to be thematic rather than narrative driven, an evocation of the sibling’s inviolable bond.

As a narrative there are provocative choices being made. It definitely privileges the experience of the painfully vulnerable children, characters who suffer, but whose fundamental and exemplary goodness remains untouched.  In contrast, their father’s brutality is vast and deep, a force of nature, as wild and volatile as the ocean. Yes, he’s given a back history, but it feels a little like the explanation we offer for many forces of nature. (e.g. We say the tides are caused by gravity, but what on earth is gravity?)

Mentioning back history brings bubbling to the surface the notion of repressed memories. Our psychologically aware culture has accepted the possibility of memories being repressed, and that means every narrative can, if it chooses, hide the key to the present in the past, finding that key at whatever time best delivers a dramatic punch. The way this play deals with the relationship between past, present and future invites much discussion post-show …. and into the future.

Beside the father, the other key character who gets less time on stage than he might is Tom, the eldest brother. Because he can, Tom flees the violence, leaving his siblings behind. The ethical element of this decision is acknowledged, but it is not a focus of the play. Instead, we remain with the children in their suffering, being asked for empathy we’ve already given.

But once again, post-show, we might consider that empathy for the unempowered is a quality we could all nurture a little more.

Paul Gilchrist

Past The Shallows by Julian Larnach (adapted from the novel by Favel Parrett)

The Rebel Theatre until 9 November

Image by Jesse Hunniford

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: