Last Tuesday 4 June, a small but dedicated cohort of Canberra theatre-goers braved the first real night-time chills of winter to see and hear the first public reading of Sean Riley’s new play for voices. This River was commissioned as part of the One River project, a national program of the Centenary of Canberra, which aims to use Canberra’s birthday celebrations during 2013 to highlight Canberra’s position as the largest city in the Murray Darling-Basin and the common experiences of river life that thread through communities large and small.
In town for the reading, Sean Riley was amazed to see how quickly members of CYTC’s Seed program had brought the play to life. Producer Morgan Little had been given the script by CYTC’s Artistic Director Karla Conway ten days earlier. The Seed program works with budding young theatre-makers giving them the opportunity to work with new material or create their own material and present it in a hothouse environment. Morgan led a creative team of four and a cast of six in the forty-minute delivery which included some highly inventive sound-effects created with everyday objects including a bucket of water and a retractable parcel cutter.
The play aims to create a rollicking drama with the Murray River as a central character, engrossing enough to gain the loyalty of radio audiences over a number of episodes. “I wanted the river to be a character in this final work – grand, moody, tempestuous, changeable, reliable, calming – a mass of contradictions,” Sean said. To achieve the authenticity he was after, he spent several weeks travelling through the Murray-Darling Basin delivering formal workshops to a number of theatre and writers’ groups who had responded to a call to be involved.
“People’s lives are endlessly fascinating, and good writing is nothing more than holding up a mirror to one’s audience,” Sean said. “All audiences want is the truth, their truth, reflected back at them. The groups of writers I worked with along the river, in communities as varied as the stories they created, observed this simple rule with staggeringly beautiful results, and their stories were an endless wealth of inspiration for me as a writer, and for the final script of This River.”
Spoiler alert! The central character in the play is a woman called Marigold who is celebrating her 100th birthday. Through Marigold, Sean uncovers a wealth of familiar truths, all stranger than fiction.
The reading was followed by a Q&A session where audience members were invited to question the writer and the readers about the script, the characters and aspects of the delivery. The creative team and the actors involved will shortly record the play in studio and it is hoped that Canberra audiences will be able to hear the finished work in the lead up to the One River residency weekend in Canberra over 24-25 August 2013.
One River is a national program of the Centenary of Canberra, proudly supported by the ACT Government and the Australian Government.[Pictured top: participants from the Art of Ageing Writers’ Group in Avoca and bottom: Mildura Theatre Company]