Our July picks for tertiary study
Tom Healey - AustralianPlays.org Literary Manager
This month I am recommending two plays by playwrights from Melbourne (although Ben Ellis is only recently returned from nearly a decade working as a playwright in the UK). Dream Home by Emilie Collyer began its life as a Masters Project in the writing studio at the Victorian College of the Arts and Falling Petals was a commission from Playbox Theatre in the early 2000’s.
Emilie Collyer’s Dream Home is a suburban fantasy piece which made its mainstage premiere at the Northcote Town Hall in 2015, directed by Luke Kerridge. Its central characters are a middle-class professional couple who are dedicated against becoming suburban. They dread ordinariness and see themselves as individual, perhaps even hipster against the backdrop of the Australian suburban landscape. In his review of the premiere production, Cameron Woodhead noted that this play resonates strongly with Patrick White’s The Season at Sarsparilla. Like White, Collyer has a keen eye for the ridiculous and the absurd within the everyday and Dream Home is a symphony of the ridiculous. At the opening of the play, the central couple (Wendy and Brian) explain to us that they are ‘going up’ – renovating their house. As they start their ‘reno demo’ strange smells start to emanate, weird characters appear and strong subconscious desires swim to the surface. This play has a difficult style to articulate, hovering as it does over the lines between farce, satire and magic realism. It contains wonderful, rich and very funny characters and is both piercing and moving in its examination of Australian suburbia.
Falling Petals is one of Ben Ellis’ finest works. Full disclosure: I worked on all the drafts and workshops of this astonishing play and directed its world premiere at Playbox in 2003. This was a corker of a play to work on and it split its audience fairly spectacularly. It concerns three students in the (fictional) rural town of Hollow. They are ambitious and determined to finish their final exams (which they are on the brink of) and then move immediately to Melbourne. A mysterious plague (affecting only children) hits Hollow and, as more and more get sick, the town is quarantined and the kids get stuck. This is really smart and really vicious satire (perhaps also part-parable) about the rigid conservatism of Australian politics and society. It is written for 5 actors (the three kids and 2 ‘adults’ who play all of the parents, teachers and government officials). It is stylistically adventurous, in places hysterically funny and really, really scary as a piece. Highly recommended!
Tom Healey, Literary Manager