In a quiet room nestled next to the Rex Cramphorn Studio at Sydney Uni, an excited group of actors gather to immerse themselves in Enda Walsh’s beautifully complex play The New Electric Ballroom. There’s a happy reunion between Genevieve Mooy and Odile LeClezio, who are delighted to be cast as sisters Clara and Breda, not having worked together since their NIDA days. Jane Phegan, playing the part of Ada, is the gorgeous woman you’ll see featured in our upcoming trailer and materials. And the quartet wouldn’t be complete without the multi-talented Justin Smith, who’ll bring Patsy the fishmonger to the stage.
Complete with tea and biscuits, the first read kicks off in full lyrical swing as the actors dust off their Irish accents. Listening intently to the script’s poetic ebb and flow out loud for the first time is dialect coach Natasha McNamara, assistant director Katherine Cullen, performance studies observer Jacinta John and our fiercely intelligent leader Kate Gaul.
Flip forward a day and we’re unpacking the microcosm of the play. Whilst the characters in The New Electric Ballroom fixate on the ritualistic devouring of home-baked coffee cake, the story itself comprises many rich layers of meaning, more like a gourmet European gateau. On the surface it appears to be a meditation on the age old story: young women, hopefully anxious with the promise of love, waiting for men to show up and change their world, only to be broken-hearted when events don’t transpire.
However, the need to return to a place of safety once reality pervades, the desperate holding on to security through meticulous repetition, and the underlying anxiety crippling the urge to strive for more, are the deeper kernel of the text. In fact, Walsh has expressed his experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and how it has influenced his plays.
There are surprising moments of violence in the play as characters battle to hold onto their stories, so it’s no wonder Kate enlists the help of intuitive fight choreographer Olivia Stambouliah to physically define them. Jane and Gen are up first with Odile not far behind. They slap and nap and scream and drop. The unconventional nature of the Griffin’s stage, with audience sightlines coming from two directions, mean the choreography needs to be convincing from all angles. Kate moves around the marked up space watching the physical contact occur from different spots and it’s thrilling to see the actors beginning to inhabit the emotion behind the hits.
Jacobie Gray, Assistant Director
Take a look at The New Electric Ballroom trailer here.