Machu Picchu and Strong Foundations with Sue Smith

Acclaimed writer Sue Smith speaks to The Adelaide Review about love, writing, and Machu Picchu.

“Anything can survive if its foundation is strong enough,” says Sue Smith, writer of Machu Picchu, the latest co-production between the State Theatre Company of SA and the Sydney Theatre Company. The play has finished its run in Sydney and will be staged in Adelaide this month. In comedic and moving tones, Machu Picchu follows the life and tests faced by a couple, Paul and Gabby, after an awful motor accident. The incident throws their life together off balance, as they struggle with ensuing injuries, and how to approach long held priorities in the face of new realities. “These two characters are engineers,” Smith says. “They are fascinated by the structure of Machu Picchu, and the thing that has sustained Machu Picchu for so long is its foundation.” In this, Smith’s finely crafted analogy becomes clear – that foundations, whether emotional or physical, are crucially important to any lasting endeavour.

Machu-Picchu-Lisa-Mccune-Adelaide-Review-brett-boardman-state-theatre-company-south-australiaLisa McCune and Darren Gilshenan as Gabby and Paul for Machu Picchu

Smith is in Adelaide for the rehearsals of Machu Picchu when she speaks to The Adelaide Review. It is not her first time here. Indeed, Smith is a favourite of the State Theatre Company, having written Kryptonite, The Kreutzer Sonata for the State Theatre (as well as Brides of Christ and Saving Mr Banks for television and film) in years past. Equally, Smith enjoys working with the company, saying it is a “beautiful company to work with” praising the “sense of collegiality and of family” that comes along with each production. “I love it,” she says. “I love being here. I love watching the actors bring material to life, and I love working with the director to see what other people unlock in the text. Sometimes you take a step back after someone points something out and you say, ‘I didn’t know I was doing that!’” Smith’s own foundations as a writer are not embedded in theatre, but in television, where she began as a serial writer for The Young Doctors. “I found my start in incredibly bad turnaround television, churning out five half-hour shows a week. I loved it, but it was very bad.” It was in this demanding role, faced with tight deadlines and the need to keep viewers interested, that Smith learned important lessons about developing story lines. “I learned how to shape characters, how to shape the narrative.” Smith went on to work on numerous other projects, including TV movies like My Brother Jack, but finally made a switch to writing for theatre. “It was about 10 or 11 years ago, I was fed up with TV. I spat the dummy and wrote a co-production for a little company in Sydney.” The switch worked out well for Smith and her love for theatre-writing has continued to grow. “ Theatre is much more joyous (than TV or film). There’s a purity of process and closeness to the director and actors,” Smith says, noting that commercial interests and twists in production can completely change a script destined for screen once it leaves the writers’ hands. “I love the mechanics of theatre. I love everyone’s process.” Machu Picchu Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre Wednesday, April 13 to Sunday, May 1 Photos: Brett Boardman

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