Gathered in the red dusty light of the Ensemble Theatre, waiting for the play The Big Dry to start, it already feels like there has been an apocalypse in Sydney. Then from the top of the stairs the crazy old rabbit rhyming begins.
It's not long before our focus changes to the household of brothers George and Beeper where the kitchen, tap and tinned food and gas masks, water and food and air, are the essentials of survival and the brilliant play.
Stretching the Ensemble Theatre boundaries artistic director Mark Kilmurry, and as playright with his adaptation from the novel by Tony Davis, leads us into new territory in the world premier of The Big Dry and the first-time collaboration with the Australian Theatre For Young People.
“I read Tony Davis’s exciting book, The Big Dry, in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down. The idea of our children surviving the future in a crumbling world was at once shocking and compelling. ATYP’s Fraser Corfield and I had talked about doing a stage project together for a few years and when I pitched the idea of adapting Tony’s book for the stage he said, ‘That’s it!’ We are very pleased to be bringing this funny, moving and exciting vision to the stage." says Kilmurry.
The Big Dry is a work of enormous heart perfectly held in the container of one act. A superb set and staging support an immensely entertaining play, with a hugely distressing concept and story that captures your attention, and a perfectly paced performance that keeps it. This work is filled with darkness by decree but lightened with humour, through the innocence of the children, and the children's story (The Selfish Giant) within.
There is an anger and urgency and confusion yet naivety in Rory Potter's performance as George. He is loud and strong and bold and yet allows us to remember he is still a child. Similarly Sofia Nolan tempers the force of her solitude and her hardness and her bravery with glimpses of the child that Emily still is. Each display the dichotomous pull that the blasters have forced upon them.
But the star of the show on opening night was Jack Andrew as Beeper. It didn't seem like a performance. Jack is so believable that you are hard pressed to believe he is acting. He seems more like a boy playing in his own home. His innocence is so great that you want to jump onto the stage and protect him from understanding what is really happening in the world outside.
Beeper is also played on alternative performances by Noah Sturzaker. Richard Sydenham is Rabbit Man.
The Big Dry is playing at the Ensemble Theatre until July 2nd. If you see only one play this year see this.
Production photos by Clare Hawley.