As Adelaide scorches towards 40 degrees, and London hovers around zero, Rachel Tackley, director of English Touring Theatre, sends me an email from London. She’s been in touch with the team of artists her company has sent to Adelaide to work with Brink Productions, on their collaboration Thursday.
“They all arrived safely and I am hoping to join them for the first day of rehearsals by Skype,” she writes. “It’s weird, we have two shows going into rehearsals on the same day, one in London and one in Adelaide. How fantastic is that!”
In 2008, ETT’s Executive Producer, Jane Claire, came to the Adelaide Festival on the search for international collaborations. There she saw When the Rain Stops Falling, and met with Brink’s Artistic Director Chris Drummond.
Five years on he’s preparing to welcome the English team to Australia for the world premiere. After that first meeting with ETT, he tells me about recalling an Enough Rope interview with London Bombing survivor Gill Hicks.
Right away he thought, “‘Hang on, an Adelaide woman in London and an Adelaide company and a London company’. Of course the second I sent it over, the director Rachel Tackley said, ‘Yeah, that’s the idea. Let’s do that one.’”
Says Tackley: “From the get-go we all agreed that this was going to be a 50/50 collaboration. Straight down the line. Actors, creative team, production team. Neither of us wanted it any other way.” With the decision made to have the premiere and rehearsals in Adelaide, this saw Drummond making several long journeys to London for the development process.
In 2009, Drummond met several playwrights for the project, including Bryony Lavery: “The moment I met her it was like two souls,” he says. “We absolutely connected.”
In 2010, Drummond returned with two Australian actors where, with four London based actors, the team played with the inspiration he had found in Hicks’ story.
Hicks was the last person to be pulled alive from the tunnel and Drummond was struck: “She said she’d been stripped of all of the hallmarks of her humanity, and what amazed her was that strangers would risk their lives to go down into that hell and fight to save her life. She could have been the bomber, she could have been anybody, she was simply just a human life.”
From this, Drummond wanted to build a work not directly about Hicks or the bombings, but about “what constitutes our humanity, what our identity is, and how as a species we’re kind of interconnected together”.
With Drummond back in Adelaide, Lavery worked on creating a script that could “capture the ferocity and wonder of the creative development”.
Marred by conversations taking place through emails across oceans, Drummond described to me the “almost 14 months of torturous agonising work”. Despite false starts in finding the right story, Drummond says Lavery was fearless. “She was amazing. And it was after about eight-and-a-half months of almost full-time writing she went ‘What if we start here?’, and suddenly it flared into life.”
With this draft finished at the end of 2011, at the beginning of 2012, Drummond was back in London with a script-polishing workshop. Now, in 2013, the two companies are ready to show their work to the Adelaide Festival – and beyond.
The international co-production, bringing together Australian and British perspectives to tell the story, brings with it interesting questions of cultural differences. Sitting in Adelaide, looking back on the 2005 bombings, Drummond ruminates: “There is something about the Australian perspective to me in that we are part of the world, but we kind of feel like we’re not quite on the same step.”
Says Tackley: “I think everyone who was living or working in London on that Thursday has a different perspective, and a different memory, so it’s difficult to speak on behalf of a city. It’s a very cold thing to say but London is a city that is used to bombs and terrorist attacks (The Blitz, and more recently the IRA) and the city refuses to be intimidated.
“I do think the piece will speak to Londoners in a different way, not just about the most recent attacks, but about generations struggling to find their own ‘new normal’ after horrendous attacks.”
For Drummond, though, the interesting questions remain about the people, not the events. “Where do you put your anger when the person that you’re angry with is not there, or is only a negative or empty space?” he asks. From Hicks, he took her message: “You don’t have to be defined by the injustice or the rage, you can be defined by the justice and the compassion.
“And they’re hard things to talk about without sounding sentimental, or without sounding a bit twee. And that’s why you do a piece of theatre. Because you can do all of that to very eloquently say one little thing.”
Norwood Concert Hall
Monday, February 15 to Saturday, March 16