Past the Shallows
How do you adapt an award-winning Tasmanian novel for the stage, especially when most of that novel takes place on a boat in the dark Southern Ocean?
Favel Parrett’s 2011 novel was initially pared back to bare speech, subsequently augmented by inner monologue, and then fleshed out with the original beautifully descriptive prose. Playwright Julian Lanarch, in collaboration with Director Ben Winspear, powerfully recreate Parrett’s work as a poetic narrative. Three actors play all characters and often the same character simultaneously. It is always clear who is voicing the role, who is physically representing the role and who articulating the character’s inner thoughts. Lines are passed between players in a carefully choreographed manner. Fluidly and seamlessly, the young cast depict the three brothers, Joe, Miles, and Harry, as well as several other adults, never missing a beat. One moment the audience is held in thrall as the power of the ocean is described whilst simultaneously tossed into the action adrift on the violent sea, as the actors voice what Parreet initially set down as first-person narration. The effect is nothing short of epic.
It is also incredibly beautiful. The set consists of several black rostrum blocks at various levels and the flats, concealing the bare sandstone walls of The Peacock Theatre, appear to have been covered with marbled white paper with little more texture and substance than lunch wrap. There was an audible gasp when the first actor spoke and the projection onto the screen transported the scene to the deck of the abalone boat. This collaboration between set designer (Keerthi Subramanyam), sound designer (Glenn Richards), lighting designer (Jason James) and AV designer (Nema Adel) produces a stunning result. The descriptions of location that are integral to Parrett’s work are vividly brought to life. The audience has no difficulty comprehending the transition when the action slips in time to a midnight car trip some six years ago. The audience experiences the exhilaration of surfing the Bone Yard with Miles, the terror of an oncoming log truck and the awe of the Aurora Australis through word, sound and image.
The three actors are mainland-based professionals with only Griffin McLaughlin a native of Tasmania/nipaluna. Meg Clarke and Ryan Hodson are Sydney based performers, and both have Bachelor of Performing Arts from QUT. All gave outstanding performances, adeptly navigating the range demanded of this unusual script.
Past the Shallows has closed in Hobart but it should not to be missed in Sydney, at Pier 2/3 from 12th October – 9th November.
Photographer: Jesse Hunniford
Buy the play script here.