Rarely performed Australian play finds new life in modern worries

Rising local performing arts company House of Sand will resurrect a rarely performed Australian work, Stephen Sewell’s Welcome the Bright World, as the fledgling company continues to impress with it repertoire of dance and theatre works.

In three short years House of Sand, founded by siblings Charles and Eliza Sanders (who are also the company’s co-artistic directors), have won acclaim for cross-disciplinary works such as Fear of Eggs, Pedals. Castles and Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, which will be performed as part of Feast Festival after a run in Sydney earlier this year.

Their next project is a production of Stephen Sewell’s forgotten powerhouse Welcome the Bright World, a play set in 1980’s Berlin about a mathemician and a physicist who discover something that could change the world but then their pursuit for the truth plunges them into a confrontation with the State.

Starring Terrence Crawford and directed by Charles Sanders, the young director believes the 1982 play, which is part of a loose trilogy from Sewell, was “somewhat ahead of its time” as it raised questions about deep state intelligence, post-truth and touched on identity politics – all pertinent topics in today’s world.

“The rise of identity politics on both the right and left is addressed in the play through the pockets of Judaism,” Sanders says. “Issues within the intelligence state, how much power should the intelligence state and deep state institutions have over our lives, the rise of a neo fascism from a different angle, all of those things are addressed in the play from the perspective of Germany in the tinderbox of 1982, during the Red Army, and it struck me as an incredibly prescient piece of writing.”

Sanders says Sewell has been integral to the new production, which is being staged as part of the State Umbrella program, which allows the State Theatre Company to present a local independent theatre work.

“It’s down about 30 to 40 minutes of playing time [compared to the original production] and is a slightly more closed story than it was then, not quite as sprawling,” Sanders says. “Essentially it’s the same play told in a slightly different way.”

Sanders met Sewell while studying directing at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), where Sewell ran the writing course. According to Sanders, they “got to know each other by being in proximity and a constellation of different things happened”. Later, Sanders travelled to Berlin to work in the German city for a month as part of his NIDA training. One of the texts he took with him was the 1982 draft of Welcome the Bright World.

“I was reading it and a question came up on Facebook from a friend about the nature of cultural vs religious vs ethnic Judaism and Terry [Terrence] Crawford, who was my acting teacher for my undergraduate degree, responded, saying, ‘For a fantastic artistic response to this question read Stephen Sewell’s Welcome the Bright World’, which I had just done.

“I was in Berlin and fascinated by the culture of Germany. When I got back I floated the idea with Stephen of what a new production of Welcome the Bright World would look like. Knowing that Terry played the leading role of Mac as a third year NIDA student in 1984 – one of the few productions the play has ever had – it seemed like a fantastic opportunity.”

Welcome the Bright World
Queen’s Theatre
Thursday, September 20 to Saturday, September 29
houseofsand.org

Tickets via statetheatrecompany.com.au

Photography: Kate Pardey

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