Founder and artistic director of Holden Street Theatres Martha Lott will celebrate her Hindmarsh Fringe hub’s 17th Fringe season by starring in the demanding one-hander Grounded.
For the past 17 years the home of Fringe theatre has been on a little street behind Hindmarsh Stadium where two heritage-listed church buildings are found at 34 Holden Street. Founded by actor and director Martha Lott in 2002, Holden Street Theatres (HST) brings the best of the Edinburgh Fringe to Adelaide every year thanks to her annual award (Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award) alongside quality work from Australia, Europe, North America and beyond.
Lott decided to stage theatre at the Fringe after returning to Adelaide in 2001. A year later, she presented two or three theatre shows a night in a room out the back of the IMAX Theatre with chairs and lights scrounged from friends and other venues.
“That was great fun, a huge challenge,” Lott says, “and I stupidly thought, ‘That was easy!’”
After that success, Lott looked for a permanent space. Her family’s company (the security and event management company Weslo, which also manages Thebarton Theatre) were working at Hindmarsh Stadium. Lott knew the old church buildings behind the stadium were empty. After approaching the old Office for Recreation and Sport and securing a lease in November 2002, Lott and her team of volunteers went to work.
“We started cleaning and it was disgusting. This building, The Arch, had nothing in it, except dirt and floor joists. A team of very passionate volunteers, and a couple of blokes from the company and myself, got in here and scrubbed it, painted it and put it together. Now it’s fantastic.”
This season, Lott (who has performed on stage, film and TV) will return to the theatre for the one-woman play Grounded, a popular 2013 play by George Brant that has been staged 125 times, including Anne Hathaway’s Off-Broadway run in 2015. Grounded continues HST’s tradition of presenting powerful one-woman performances, which include Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer, Henry Naylor’s Angel (starring Avital Lvova) and Molly Taylor’s Love Letter to the Public Transport System. Lott first caught Grounded at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2013 but chose not to present it as it was too expensive and popular to tour. That unfortunate break was a blessing in disguise as it gives Lott the chance to tackle it in 2019 under the guidance of director Poppy Rowley.
“When I saw it in Edinburgh, I thought, ‘My god, that’s a tough play’,” Lott remembers. “It’s a brilliant script and back then I thought it would have been really challenging for that actress to get it off the page. Now, I’m having to meet that challenge,” she laughs.
One of the first theatre works to tackle drone warfare, Grounded is the story of an unnamed US Air Force pilot who has to end her career in the sky after falling pregnant. Returning from maternity leave, the F16 pilot is literally grounded as she operates drones from the ground in her Nevada base during the day while she looks after her family at night.
“She has to battle with the whole concept of being a mother and a killing machine,” Lott says of her character. “As a drone pilot, she works 12 hours a day, seven days a week and goes home every night. So, she kills during the day, goes to war and then returns home to be a mother, a wife and a normal functioning human being. It’s just impossible.”
Grounded is one of the main attractions of Holden Street Theatres’ 2019 Fringe program along with this year’s two Edinburgh Fringe Award winners Extinguished Things and Build a Rocket.
“Extinguished Things is quintessential Molly Taylor: it’s lyrical, beautiful, charming and engaging,” Lott says of the new work from the actor and playwright who is returning to Adelaide. “The story is gorgeous: a young woman goes back to her hometown and finds that her neighbours, who influenced her, have passed away but she remembers where the old key is and enters their house. We go on that journey of her going back into the house and it’s stunning.”
Lott says Build a Rocket is a “little gem” that she found at the Edinburgh Fringe and is the debut play of Christopher York.
“We awarded it and people flooded in to see it,” Lott laughs. “It’s gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. Totally my style. It’s exciting to give that (Build a Rocket) a platform.”
Holden Street Theatres, 34 Holden Street, Thebarton
Tuesday, March 5 to Saturday, March 16
Photography: Sia Duff