There are few places in the world that can haunt the imagination like the harsh unforgiving landscapes of Australia. Facts and history have given way to legend and mythos over the decades and centuries since our golden shores were invaded, and even those legends have faded into half-forgotten, sense-memory. Whispering to our most primal selves.
It is, therefore, a spectacular backdrop to set Tremayne Gordon’s new Australian work ‘What We Saw In The Sorghum Fields’ against. A play that explores hidden things inside the fields, in our history, and even in our deepest selves. As a trio of teens, out on an unexplained trip in the middle of the night gets lost in the fields, truths are discovered, secrets revealed, and deep-seeded fears must be confronted.
Teaming up with THAT Production Company, Gordon’s work gets a stunning minimalist treatment by director and production designer Timothy Wynn. A clever staging for a new work, particularly one that requires some room to grow. No work is perfect when it first finds its feet, but in spite of some plot holes, and a few character inconsistencies, ‘What We Saw In The Sorghum Fields’ has a solid foundation upon which to grow. Both Gordon and Wynn should be congratulated on bringing new Australian stories to the stage.
Wynn used the rehearsal time well, delving deep into each of the characters’ internal trauma. This was displayed wonderfully amongst the group of young actors, even while some elements of the narrative may have fallen a little flat. There is a carefully developed sense of a slowly building rhythm in this production. A slow tempo that gradually builds as the audience is drawn into the bizarre “other” world of the play.
The small ensemble of three young actors managed to deliver some strikingly thoughtful performances, fleshing out some of the as-yet undeveloped parts of the story and grounding the production in its uncomfortable, often silent tension. Their chemistry was well established, and they were beginning to explore some nuances between the character dynamics that helped to ground the story.
As Charlie, Chris Patrick Hansen brought a considered, deeply introspective performance to the stage. For such a young actor the intelligence and thought clearly operating behind his choices was impressive, and marks Hansen as one to watch with keen interest. While he didn’t always get the physicality of a blind man (something actors with much more age and experience also struggle with), there was a beautiful comfortableness, and a cathartic charm in his performance, in particular by his ability to simply be still and silent.
Working against Ella Macrokanis’s Hannah, the pair brought a coy, often quite amusing playfulness to their relationship. While many may have found the silences that often settled between the pair to be unnecessary, it allowed a relationship to blossom, and a comfortable yearning to grow between them that provided a strong foundation for the show. Macrokanis brought a maturity and determination to bear on the storyline, effusing the bare bones of the narrative with purpose and direction that may have otherwise been lacking.
Rounding out the trio is Indigo Macrokanis. Her portrayal of Lilly has all the hallmarks of an actor far older than her years and as the youngest cast member, she brought an urgency, and energy to the stage that drove the story forward. Her fascination with the lost explorers and the friction with Hannah (her sister both in real life and in the play) made for some of the most interesting and dynamic moments throughout.
The production design was minimalistic and striking. A handful of plastic sheets, suspended, that twisted as if in the wind. Creating doorways and shadows, while eerily simulating the lazy movement of the sorghum in the fields at night. It was effective at raising the stakes of the show, and it would have been wonderful to see this used more throughout. In particular the opportunity for shadow play that it provided, both as a way to raise tensions, and as a device to make the audience start to question what it was they were seeing.
The lighting design was solidly conceived, if not necessarily cleanly executed. At times it felt like the swathes of muddy blue lighting went on forever, with nothing striking to play against it. It would have been appropriate to mirror some of the unknown elements of the production, and the sharp plot turns with some lighting states that strongly juxtaposed against this. Additionally, the back lighting made available from the “car” headlights could have been used more for silhouette work. It was a wonderful and evocative choice, and would have been spectacular if used more.
On another note, the wings of the Ron Hurley Theatre are not spacious, or accommodating for much beyond a single person standing in them. However, even taking this into account, it was surprising the amount of movement that could be seen from them, stage crew running from side to side, and the exit signs consistently being able to be seen. This unnecessarily drew focus from the actors on stage, and spoiled some of the tension being created by the team.
It is too rare an experience to get lost in a new work, in particular something Australian, and so early in its development. Even more so a work taken from page to stage by some of Brisbane’s most exciting up young talent. This team brings a work to life that, while incomplete and in need of some work, feels young and vital. It takes chances, and crashes headlong into risks, and even when they don’t always pay off, it is a privilege to watch them try. ‘What We Saw In The Sorghum Fields’ is a work that deserves to be seen, and further developed, and embraced as it grows to become a part of our whispered outback Australiana psyche.
Sadly, ‘What We Saw In The Sorghum Fields’ had a strictly limited season and only played until Saturday 8th February, 2020, but this is one show that will definitely be making the rounds again. When it does, make sure you get a ticket and head out to support some fantastic fresh Australian theatre. Head to http://www.thatproductioncompany.com.au to stay up to date.
This article was edited by Benjamin Tubb-Hearne.