by Catherine Blanch.
State Theatre Company of SA and Sydney Theatre Company has once again joined forces to present a new work from acclaimed Australian playwright Sue Smith [Brides Of Christ, Mabo, Bastard Boys]. Kryptonite is a thought-provoking political piece which traces the fortunes of two Sydney University students to China and Canberra as their lives intertwine and implode.
The Clothesline speaks with Adelaide Director Geordie Brookman as we discuss Kryptonite, currently showing in Sydney, and the co-production between the two theatre companies.
“We try to seek out as many collaborations as we can because it provides us with presence on the national stage which means that when we are employing our artist we can offer them longer contracts,” Geordie begins. “But it also deepens the artistic ecology of this state by us collaborating with artists from elsewhere. Sue Smith is a wonderful writer with a long, celebrated career in television and film. Kryptonite was commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company in partnership with Playwriting Australia and has being developed over the last two years.
“I knew Sue from working with her on The Kreutzer Sonata for last year’s Adelaide Festival and we very much wanted to work together again and, ideally, on one of her new original plays. So when I heard that Sydney Theatre Company had a new commission by her, I quite quickly followed it up and asked to have a look at it. I liked it and we have worked on a co-production together.
“The great thing about Sue as a writer is that she’s fiercely intelligent, unabashedly and bravely political, yet she always keeps the focus on the human side of the story, so it’s a really character and story-focussed piece.”
How involved is Sue in the processes of putting on this play?
“Very much,” Geordie says. “We rehearsed the production here in Adelaide, with her spending the entire first week with us, and then dropped in at various times during the rest of the rehearsal process. We then shifted to Sydney and then opened the play at Sydney Theatre Company about four weeks ago, and Sue was there a lot. And that’s the way we both like to work; I like having playwrights in the room and I love it being a really active collaboration.
“The show will close in Sydney on Saturday October 18 and we’re up and running here in Adelaide the following Wednesday, so it all flows together as a single production.”
The two-person cast consists of Ursula Mills as Lian, the introverted Chinese exchange student and Tim Walter as Dylan, the charismatic but brilliant boy from Australia’s Northern beaches.
“Ursula and Tim are both fabulously talented young actors,” Geordie enthuses. “Tim is probably one of the busiest actors in Sydney at the moment, having just come off a run of shows with Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir and Bell’s Shakespeare all over the course of the last 12 months. Ursula used to be one of the members of the resident ensemble of Sydney TC so they’re both really experienced and excellent theatre actors.
“These roles are really exciting, because the story tracks these two characters over a 3-decade timeline, so it’s one of those wonderful challenges for an actor to play a single character over a long period of time and to look at all those ways that they can develop that character and show subtle shifts and change in behaviour and attitude.”
Even with the obvious relationships between Australia and China, on both a political and economical level, what inspired Sue to write play such as this?
“I think, primarily, because it’s very current,” Geordie replies. “We, as Australians,have this very Anglo-centric Westernised view of ourselves and our place in the world, and yet the area we are actually within is Asia. There is a pervasive attitude amongst sections of white middle-class Australia, a pervasive distrust of a lot of other cultures, but many Asian cultures in particular. It’s that trace prejudice and discomfort that exists in that section of our culture that really needs to be discussed.
“I think what is fabulous about what Sue has done is that she traces this relationship between the two countries back over what is a really interesting period in that relationship, starting with the trigger-point year of 1989 – the moment when Tiananmen Square happened and Bob Hawke made the famous offer to allow all Chinese students to stay in Australia, if they chose to. It then traces through the next 25 years when, now, we are more dependent on China for our economical well-being than we are any other country in the world.
“The ‘lucky’ situation we find ourselves in, as a nation, is all based around the exploitation of a completely finite resource,” he adds. “This is something that the play draws on as well because our two characters start out as Geology students. Lian ends up as an executive in a Chinese mining company and Dylan becomes a Federal Greens Senator – so you can imagine the intersections between their respective interests are quite powerful. But it really feeds in to how temporary our current situation is when you really look at it.”
So, this isn’t a love story, is it?
“It is actually, but in the sense of how many things there are that can conspire to keep two people apart when emotionally they should absolutely be together and are made for each other,” Geordie suggests. “But, and what I find interesting about the piece, the distance between two people, regardless of cultural difference, is always incredibly hard to bridge. Tracking this ‘could’ve-would’ve-should’ve’ relationship over 25 years is really interesting and kind of bittersweet. It’s not like a love story where everyone traipses off into the sunset; Sue has created a world on stage that is full of consequence and damage, so it’s a lot like real life really.”
No happy ending either?
“There is and there isn’t,” he says. “I think there’s a series of really interesting provocations that make the audience incredibly intellectually engaged, and then there is a really really strong emotional thrust story and investment in this love story that will make an audience feel deeply.
“You know, we don’t necessarily go to the theatre for a happy ending; we go to have a cathartic experience; to sort through everything that is going on in our daily lives and to hopefully widen our perceptions a little bit. So, there’s the satisfaction of catharsis and also that of a fabulously twisting and tightly-woven plot, which you would expect from a writer like Sue.
“Sometimes, as an audience member, we can forget how deeply satisfying it is to watch a really labyrinth theme plot come together and twist around on you a number of times. This show is funny; it’s moving and very layered,” Geordie concludes. “Anybody who enjoys coming to the theatre to think and to engage with the contemporary world around them will enjoy Kryptonite.”
Kryptonite performs at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times on Wed Oct 22 until Sun Nov 9.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au.