By Arne Sjostedt
It’s one of the best things that can happen at the theatre. When a packed audience winds up so in love with the work that they forget where they are. A collective relaxation of the subconscious critical mind, and a duck dive into just being entertained. The ingredients to bring about the kind of shift the best theatre can give involve talented performers, a great script. And, for the intelligent and theatrically savvy Adriane Daff from The Last Great Hunt, comedy can help more than a little bit.
“Theatre can’t be too in love with itself,” she says.”It has got to be accessible, and it’s got to really have the audience in mind. And making people laugh is a great way to achieve this.”
The Last Great Hunt is a collective of theatre-makers from Western Australia, who all studied at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Their latest production “The Irresistible”, a 2018 Helpmann Award-nominated play created by Daff and company in partnership with Side Pony Productions, sets out to explore notions of unconscious gender bias underneath a spooky tale of haunted families and their spiritual encounters.
And while a look at the abstract for “The Irresistible” may appear to be somewhat serious, Daff says that this isn’t the whole story.
“Sometimes when I talk about the show I worry that people think that it sounds like your biting off some really heavy subject matter. But ultimately it’s funny, it’s entertaining.”
Likened to a good episode of “Twin Peaks”, the story is about two sisters who both experience something supernatural as children.
“Brigitte has been haunted by it and wants to get to get to the bottom of it,” says Daff. “She wants to solve the mystery. And it’s something that has plagued her her entire life.
A doctor, April is a pragmatic woman who believes more in logic and common sense. “She is in complete denial about this thing that happened to them when they were children. And then it all resurfaces as Brigitte’s mental health sufferers over the years, and she has to send her daughter Cassie to go and live with April for a little while.”
The arrival of Cassie in April’s life, “a spooky supernatural child herself”, sets off a series of events that means April is going to have to confront what happened.
“We knew that we wanted to make something that was a little more subtle. A little more challenging in form,” Daff says of the play.
Hoping to break away from the sort of work that the company had made in the past, she says they set out into unknown territory. This is when the intention to look at unconscious gender bias came up, where they hoped to look at it in a way that was buried below the surface of the story.
Directed by Zoe Pepper, starring Daff and fellow collaborator Tim Watts, the show has been created through an artistic process the company has refined over the years they have been working together.
“We all went to WAAPA together, and there was really a kind of focus in the mid-2000s on this word devising, and making things through improvisation,” Daff says.
“The way that our process has developed over the 14 or 15 years that we have been working together is the methodology that this is very much about exploring more ideological stuff on the floor to see what it might look like theatrically, what it might look like on the body, and what scenes might look like, who the characters might be.”
The company also does a rigorous research phase, looking further into issues or topics, then using an extensive writing process to tie together all of the strands. This gives a sophistication to the work that is the kind of refinement that has seen “The Irresistible” nominated for a Helpmann Award for Best Play.
But at the core of their process, is always the art of improvisation.
“A tool that we have used since day one, and one that we will continue to use probably for the rest of our careers, is very long-form improvisation,” Daff says. “I’m talking 45 minutes to an hour, or an hour and twenty. So you get all the really cliche stuff out and then stop really thinking about what you are saying. And then it all becomes really stream of consciousness.”
"The Irresistible" plays The Canberra Theatre 20 - 21 September. Visit canberratheatrecentre.com.au