REVIEW / INTERVIEW FEATURE: Safe
Review and Interview by Lara Franzi
Safety and security are things we naturally seek, whether it’s through our habits, or our familiar routines. Throughout our lives the things we once were comforted by may no longer be enough. There are places we outgrow, or arms we move on from. This is explored in the play Safe, as we follow Carol, a homemaker who needs to move on from a place she used to call home.
Writer and Director Sarah Hadley takes inspiration from Todd Haynes 1995 film ‘Safe’, to bring it on stage at the Old 505 Theatre. Hadley focuses on Carol and her connection to her world. Exploring the building paranoias within her life, as she becomes sick to the toxic humanity surrounding her. Living in a frail modern society that listens to a TV screen for their moral compass. Carol is trying so hard to be perfect in an imperfect world, when she physically can’t stand it anymore, forcing her to find safety somewhere else.
Safe explores the feelings that we sometimes can’t explain, the tremors, the agony or irrational fears. What we do subconsciously to protect ourselves is important, it’s our way of being safe, by knowing what will hurt us and knowing how to avoid it. As an audience we are invited to look beneath the make-up that generations and a polite society has taught her, and to instead recognise the deep trauma our consumeristic society nurtures.
Earlier this week I was invited to speak with lead actress Ella Prince about the play Safe, who has worked with Safe’s director Sarah Hadley many times, to share interesting and engaging stories.
Ella Prince in SAFE
Lara: What are your favourite characters to play?
Ella: I was classically trained, but I'm particularly drawn to contemporary women, contemporary stories and queer stories about women who transcend certain boundaries, or boxes that might be put upon them by society. That's what I'm always looking for, and that's why at SOTTO we adapt stories that we take from others, by bringing them into the now to re-define those female characters in a particularly contemporary way. That's definitely what excites me, to blur the boundaries of female limitations and the expectations placed upon women. To explore how they might move beyond their gender, or of those limitations.
Do you feel that in the play Safe, you've found this type of strong female character?
I think Carol is a really interesting woman, and existing at first in this landscape of a very mummy-ed society. She calls herself a homemaker, but she's essentially a woman without a profession whose reared in this environment where it's almost like these women are holograms. We've consumed them more in popular culture now, rather than in the time when she existed in ‘87. Now we have shows like Desperate Housewives. She's particularly fascinating because she's ostracised by her environment, because of her chemical and environment illness. The illness forces her to retreat to another landscape, a much vaster landscape in the desert of New Mexico, where she has to navigate or discover who she might actually be. She's never really been in a position of questioning that, within the comforts of her world of worth and position.
Do you feel that revisiting this play at our current time, that it will bring a strong relevance to our society?
We are hoping there will be a relevance to it. Our dramaturg Ang Collins is leading that front in terms of interrogating the text, where it might be relevant to the culture we find ourselves in, the dilemmas in terms of the climate crisis, and how we move forward, particularly the younger generations who are claiming that this is the most important fight of their life. But Carol herself is a unique individual, and I think we're really claiming what her story, and world is. Whether it's the colours of those, or the information that bleeds into her mind. We've designed the stage to essentially be a representation of her mind. It's a personal piece, in that sense. I think there's relevance to be found in all the themes, but we're looking specifically at this individual.
I was lucky enough to see Chorus at the Old Fitz this year, which is a piece that you and Ang Collins also worked on together. I was wondering how your collaboration process worked?
I love working with Ang. We first met when I did a reading of hers for her graduate piece for her master's NIDA writing degree. Then professionally we worked on You’ve Got Mail, under the direction of Sarah Hadley. The introduction really came through Sarah, who is my partner in SOTTO. We share the theatre company together, and Ang is our main collaborator. Now we have Sarah Hadley directing Safe, and Ang Collins is the dramaturg. That's our journey of collaborations.
I've been an avid consumer of Ang's writing and find her work very fresh, fun, and full of energy. I think her perspective has a drive to it that I think is very exciting. She's moving more and more into herself, and I think it was particularly exciting working with her on Chorus, as we got to discover something new together from the beginning. We're both exploring different aspects of ourselves as creators, so it's nice to go on that journey with people.
It's really nice when someone has an idea, in this case, Sarah is a huge Todd Haynes fan, and she was the main driving force behind this adaptation when we pitched it to the Old 505 about a year and a half ago. She's the one who had the more intimate connection with this particular text. I think Sarah, Ang and I really appreciate the different energies and perspectives that we bring to a work, and we challenge one and other in ways that are useful to our practice.
How does it feel to contribute to the Old 505’s FreshWorks FEMME?
I'm a big fan of new writing of any kind, and I think we need to push more into that as a theatre culture in Australia. I think sometimes the attention is more focused on the director, but we have a whole theatre space of really exciting voices, and more to be discovered. I think any platform that allows new voices to express something to be encouraged, and where I think the future is brightest.
Especially with these kinds of work, trying stuff that is new, I think any kind of festival platform is also particularly exciting because it's a chance to take risks with very little consequences. It's a platform for ideas, more than anything. When you try to put on a 4-week production, sometimes that initial drive that you were trying to harness kind of dissipates a little bit with the pressures of putting on something that can be consumed by a wider audience. Whereas with this festival, there's room to move, breathe and take risks. If people don't like it, that's absolutely fine.
I think it's particularly interesting to present new genres of work where we're sort of very wedded to realism in Sydney. There is a naturalism to the piece, but it's also nice to dive deep into the high drama of moments. I think it's nice when theatre owns itself and owns its voice. Where it claims its space. We want you to climb into the world with us. It's fun to paint with bigger brushstrokes, often it's just about more minute interactions as a kind of reflections of ourselves. Sometimes you can find more in the bolder choices in theatre. I think moving in that direction is more fun, it makes it more exciting to consume.
How do you find an audience’s experience of film to theatre?
I think there’s something incredibly special about existing in a space with other people. I mean it’s great that things can be recorded now, but obviously when you then put it through the medium of cinema, whether that's its original form or you're filming theatre itself, it's somehow more removed. There's something really vital and exciting about live work. There's a lot of really exciting voices at the moment, that are trying to push theatre for all it's worth and to invite more and more people into it. It's a great place for an exchange of conversation or ideas. There's something that happens in the audience regardless of their subjective responses to a work, being in the same space is something communal and really powerful. If anything, that'd be my hope for the future, that more people find themselves at the theatre, who perhaps have had a difficult relationship with it, or felt that at times it wasn't for them. I think if we can bring more people to it, that that it would be a really positive thing.
The Old 505 Theatre
29 Oct - Nov 2