edited by Carol Ryles
Coping with personal suffering amidst a national tragedy is just one of the titanic themes writer and director Aidan Fennessy explores in his latest play National Interest. Specifically commissioned by the Black Swan State Theatre Company, I was lucky enough to be in attendance at last night’s world premiere. It was a unique treat to wholly experience Fennessy’s vision of this emotionally draining yet redemptive play.
The backdrop for this fictive account is the Indonesian military’s 1975 East Timor killing of five Australian journalists. A modest beginning reveals June Stewart ambling around her home cleaning and reminiscing with her daughter, Jane, after the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. This confrontation of bereavement compels Jane to discuss her mother’s apparent failure to “cope” with living alone. Their discussion of memory loss literally opens the floodgates of June’s memories. The audience is then taken on a journey, backwards and forwards through the years of what Black Swan's artistic director, Kate Cherry, calls “perpetual anguish,” caused by the murder of June’s twenty-one year-old son Tony in Balibo.
Julia Blake stars as June, an internally wounded yet outwardly spritely woman whose inability to confront her life’s tragedies has caught up with her on this fateful night in 2007. Blake balances June’s cynical humour and infinite suffering, creating a thought provoking character. Her performance further challenges the audience to by-step sympathy and instead engage with June’s grief on a more visceral level. Being privy to such a bevy of raw and intimate memories felt almost voyeuristic. June’s murdered son Tony (played by James Bell) and two of his Channel Seven colleagues (played by Grant Cartwright and Stuart Halusz) were fantastic as they seamlessly wove in and out of the myriad roles that June’s memory thrusted them into. The three men often worked in unison, sometimes speaking over one another, producing a terrifying cacophony of the doubts, fears and torment swirling around in June’s mind.
As with every Black Swan State Theatre Company production, the creative team’s efforts added immeasurable depth to National Interest’s impact. Christina Smith created a fantastic space for the action. The set is a skeletal structure of a house, connected by semi-transparent mesh instead of solid walls that afford the ghosts of June’s memories effortless transitions on and off stage. Trent Suidgeest again proves his lighting acumen. He succeeded in transforming June’s humble living room into everything from a courtroom to a small hut in the middle of East Timor. Ben Collins who, along with Suidgeest, is a part of Black Swan’s Emerging Artists series, employed a restrained and effective use of soundscape.
National Interest is more than just a response to the tragedy of the 1975 murders. It is a very personal narrative of one woman’s struggle to return to normalcy. While Fennessy explores this theme with the reverence it deserves, he does not shy away from the confrontation of this global issue. I highly recommend seeing National Interest, a play that has enlivened the discussion on such a thought-provoking event in Australian history.
National Interest runs from now until May 20th, 2012 at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
About Jen Perry
Jen is presently completing her honours year in German at the University of Western Australia, and was on the student-editing committee for Trove; a multimedia creative arts journal from 2010 to 2011