This article was originally published in the May Adelaide Review
Since her first play Tender opened in Belvoir’s independent theatre space in Sydney in 2006, playwright Nicki Bloom has seen her plays produced in Aubrey, Brisbane and New York City, with additional readings in Melbourne and London.
Her plays and prose have won some of Australia’s most prestigious writing awards, and in 2008 she won Australia’s richest playwriting award: the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award.
This year began with two awards for Bloom at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature: the Jill Blewett Playwright Award for A Cathedral and the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship for The Sun and the Other Stars. Now, the South Australian-based Bloom is preparing for the world premiere of her latest work, Land & Sea, which opens with a preview at the Queen’s Theatre on Friday, May 11.
Talking to Bloom and director and dramaturge of the work, Brink Productions Artistic Director Chris Drummond, on the second day of rehearsals, the pair exudes with pleasure the final discoveries, which are being made in preparation for opening. Land & Sea has been in development since 2008, and the pair is clearly excited and ready to see it take its new life in front of an audience.
From a prose and poetry background, the language in Bloom’s plays exhibits a strong sense of structure and form. “All playwrights have different views on this, but I come pretty firmly down on the side that you’re writing literature,” Bloom says. “Of course you’re writing a play, and you’re writing something to be done, but it also has great value as a piece of text.”
Working with Brink and Drummond has been interesting for Bloom. Drummond has a keen interest in the role of the playwright as just one member of a creative team trying to ask, as he describes it, “what are we trying to create here?”
After Bloom and Drummond had defined leaping-off points for the world of the play they wished to create, the work began its creation in a two-week development process with a group of performers.
“The writer is both the definer of the world,” says Drummond of this collaborative process, “but also just another artist on the floor, completely equal with everybody else, working away at the hard yards. I think that’s a really interesting tension there, that the writer has to be able to carry both perspectives.”
Bloom says the Land & Sea is less literary than her other works, and is an “entirely theatrical piece”.
“There is a lot of music, a lot of movement, and much less dialogue than I normally write. It’s a real living breathing theatrical thing, so we’re really making it in the room.”
Because of these elements and the innovation in form Bloom has played with in Land & Sea, she is “interested in an audience approaching it in the same way they approach a piece of music or a piece of dance. You don’t come to [dance or music] with ideas of wanting to follow a straight forward, easy to digest narrative. You come to it from a slightly more off-centre place.”
“We do it without thinking in Festival time,” Drummond agrees. “You go and see Ballet C de la B, but you won’t analyse it as dance theatre or text-based theatre, it’s just a work of theatre. There is something about the internationalism of the work, or the reputation of the artists.”
In recent years, adaptations of classic theatre have taken key places on stages in Melbourne and Sydney. Artists such as Simon Stone, Benedict Andrews and Tom Wright are taking the texts of Brecht, Ibsen, and Chekhov, re-writing and re-arranging the script to find new form and new relevance. The result, says Drummond, is “a lot of the innovative form in text-based theatre is in adaptation and having a dialogue with the classics. To play with form in new writing has been much harder.”
But, with a knowing smile, he adds that, “we’ve tried to do everything we can so that an audience doesn’t have to read an article in order to come in. It will happen in the way in which they come into the theatre: their expectations and preconceptions will drop away.”
You can also read my subsequent review of the play here, or listen to me talk about the work with the guys from The Scenery here.