The People’s Republic of Theatre

In the midst of Adelaide’s wide performing arts landscape, a new Republic is being established. A Theatre Republic, that is.

It started as an idea about 18 months ago,” says Corey McMahon, artistic director and co-founder of this new theatrical state. “About 12 months ago I said to Manda [Webber, co-founder and producer], ‘Do you feel like jumping off a cliff with me?’”

“I jumped off that cliff with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever,” Webber says. “I knew what I would be getting myself into, and that was really good work.”

Over those 12 months, the pair has been steadily assembling the schedule and structure of this new company. The Republic’s key pitch, its constitution, if you like, is that it should produce challenging socio-political work that will attract the audiences who shun theatre for sofa-based streaming services, and provide further employment opportunities for local theatre-makers.

“We’re trying to get audiences back – who have tuned into Netflix or Stan – and say you can have just as an exciting, thrilling, challenging, compelling experience sitting in a theatre watching a bang-up contemporary relevant story,” McMahon says.

The Republic’s first sortie is LINES, a British play from playwright Pamela Carter, set to make its Australian premiere in October at the Bakehouse Theatre. LINES tells the story of young men who find a home in the military, but struggle to adjust to fit in with society once they become soldiers.

“They’re built up to be these fighting machines, these all-powerful young men who are there to fight and kill for their country, and fight for each other too, which is ultimately the most important thing,” McMahon says. “What happens to men like that, when they’re built up to be invincible and then they leave and don’t know what to do with that?”

Carter wrote the play based on a series of interviews she conducted with young army recruits in Britain. In that, this production bears a cursory resemblance to Long Tan, Brink Theatre and State Theatre Company’s 2017 co-production based on interviews with Australian veterans of the Vietnam War, written by Verity Laughton.

“Verity’s play is very much almost verbatim, I think,” says McMahon. “It’s the words of those people translated onto the stage, whereas Pamela has written a work of fiction, but absolutely based it on the interviews that she has conducted with these young soldiers. She comes from a military family and has a love of army films, miltary films. That’s reflected in a lot of the media the young soldiers engage with in the play – things like Lone Survivor – and they try to emulate that. They think they’ll be like Mark Wahlberg running through the forest, taking bullets and becoming more powerful.”

In another connection to Long Tan, Adelaide actor Stuart Fong is set to play this production as well as having played in the other. As an Army Reserve himself, Fong has a distinct appreciation for LINES’ subject matter.

“He came in to audition and I asked him what he thought of the play – at that point I didn’t know he was in the army reserve – he revealed that, and said, ‘That’s absolutely my life in the army.’”

Two further productions are on the horizon for Theatre Republic: Nil By Mouth, an examination of media discourse around the survivors of the Lindt Café Siege written by Duncan Graham, and Border(town), inspired by the lives of woman Afghan refugees that playwright Emily Steel encountered in regional South Australia. Both are still in their early stages, but Nil By Mouth should reach audiences by the end of next year, says McMahon.

“[In Nil By Mouth] Duncan Graham the playwright wants to explore whether the survivors of the Lindt Café siege had a voice after they were rescued, and what shaped the messages that were being communicated to the public on behalf of the survivors,” says McMahon.

Border(town) comes from McMahon’s interest in telling the story of refugees coming to Australia and Steel’s meeting of a group of Afghan women in Bordertown.

“It was absolutely serendipitous, meant to be,” says McMahon. “Emily saw it as an amazing opportunity to give voice to these women. The things she heard are heartbreaking and inspiring… There are some questions around representation in how we present it, and we’ve got to take care of their stories, be respectful of that. One of the ideas that Emily’s got is that they play a part in that production speaking in their native tongue, and then actors help guide the story along… Development begins on that in 2019. Watch this space, as they say.”

LINES
Wednesday, October 24 to Saturday, November 10
Bakehouse Theatre
theatrerepublic.org

Photography: Sia Duff

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