When Clare initially approached me, as Black Swan's newly appointed Artistic Director, she wanted to commission a new play (and us playwrights, we like a commission). She talked of a play that spoke to the moral questions and dilemmas of our current times. She wanted it to be big, bold, ambitious, a family drama for now - we talked of the plays of Arthur Miller, a hero of mine (no pressure). I went away exhilarated by our conversation and with Miller’s plays in my mind - thinking how a play about a father’s failed career, speaks to the death of the American Dream - or an escalating witch-hunt in Salem, mirrors the political witch hunts of the 50's McCarthy era. Where everyone comes under suspicion - and as fear and hysteria grows, like a bush fire, the thing most under threat becomes the truth.
I was excited about a play that might be set in, or near Perth. I was bewitched when a dear friend took me to her family holiday house on Molloy island, a strangely beautiful place, walled in by nature. Not far from the mainland, the island felt deserted, frozen in time and I was struck by the odd rules and restrictions for entrance: at the crossing, at the border of land and water, by its metaphorical potential. By now, I'd decided to write of the plight of asylum seekers and of a looming environmental crisis - how our role in both might be viewed, in the future. Things swam in my mind - Australia as an island, a drought, a silent bush, emptied of birds, vast bodies of water that people must cross, to find safety.
The writing of the play itself was to become an epic journey. Over two years I searched for the place and eras for each of the stories in Water to exist, and the characters to tell them. Clare and Polly Low were there at each draft stage, as were a room full of brilliant actors. The play felt audacious, sometimes terrifying, like the world itself, and I felt the weight of responsibility of its themes. But there was always warmth, laughter, fiercely intelligent conversation, and support as the play unfolded and we became compelled by its story, and what it could say.
We live in globally uncertain times, yet I still have hope for humanity, for what we are capable of. Like the rare few current leaders who have recently shown us that compassion for human life isn't weakness, but can be strength, and like the characters at the core of Water, we must learn that fear and believing the lies we are being told, don't keep us safe, only questioning what we believe is right can.
Water is now a long way from where it began and has finally found its way home. I hope that we can recognise ourselves, and those close to us in the play - that we root for its characters, in their idealism, and are shocked by the acts some have committed. I fiercely believe that Australia is made stronger and better by the rich diversity of our migrants, and that we must welcome them and their stories, as ours now. As a writer, it's my responsibility to ask - as human beings, what right do we have to deny other humans a safe place to live? When the alternative many times before has led to acts of war and genocide, that we cannot take back. If we are a lucky country, then we must share that luck, with those less fortunate.
Thank you to the actors along the way and our wonderful cast for this first outing, who gave much of themselves. Thanks to Emily McLean, our director, for her huge warm heart and History Major brain. And thank you to Black Swan and to Clare and Polly for urging me to dream, without fear, to dare to dream bigger.