You’ve directed many productions for Black Swan. What excites you about directing Summer of The Seventeenth Doll?
The Doll is everything you could possibly want from a big-hearted family drama. The personalities are large, and the stakes are high. I can’t think of a play in which an audience wants the characters to win so strongly, and when they don’t, it’s heartbreaking. It is our answer to the great American plays of Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller and Lawler’s play is as good as any of their finest works.
Why is it important that West Australians see this play now?
It is wonderful to revisit a work of this significance and it is the first time Black Swan has presented the Doll. It was a landmark play when first produced in the 1950’s and it was one of the first times working class Australians were presented on our stages. Although we live in a country that is very different culturally and politically, the play still packs a monumental punch. It challenges the choices we make in terms of how we choose to define our relationships and interrogates our inability to grow and change.
The play resonates strongly with our WA community and the burden we are under with the fly in fly out culture. But what lies at the heart of the Doll are wonderfully charming, inimitable characters who are forced to face the uncomfortable truth that their fading strength and vitality can no longer keep the party going.
The play has been described as both naturalistic and realistic. What style will you be presenting the play in?
The work is naturalistic. We are presenting the people and the period with as much reality as possible although we are adding a layer of theatricality through the set and lighting design. We have wrapped the 1950’s terrace house (original setting) in a contemporary skin. Behind the period wallpaper and floor and ceiling finishes there is a very large light box that gives us the ability to imperceptibly change the colour tones and intensity or texture of the entire room. It allows our team to heighten certain moments and have incredible control over the visual mood of the play.
Describe how you break the rehearsal weeks up when directing. What might you do in the beginning of the process that students may not be aware of, for example?
Day one began with the design presentation of the set and costumes and the very first read through of the play. This was the first time we had the entire team assembled, although I had been working with my designers for up to 12 months to get to that point. Over the next four or five days we very slowly read the play and opened the table up for discussion. This included everything from exploring the period, analysing the text, considering character motivations and beginning to consider how we might stage the work. As funny as it sounds this is the time we really decide on ‘what’ the story is we are going to be telling. It gives everyone involved in the project a chance to have a shared experience of the play before disappearing into their own processes.
In week two we got up on the floor and over 5 days we staged the play. I try as much as I can to work in chronological order. In week three and four we will repeat the process working the play from beginning to end adding another layer of detail and we keep working like this until we connect scenes and run the play. I will usually only run the play in the very final days of the rehearsal room, and then we move into the theatre to combine all the technical elements.