The show didn’t seem to be Jason Blake’s cup of tea, ‘…then someone pulled out a large rubber octopus. Right about there is where I lost it’. Augusta Supple, on the other hand, said ‘I absolutely applaud the brave and sassy vision of this production – robust and vivid imagery’.
It’s true, there is a rubber octopus. There are also remote controlled helicopters, bikinis, underpants, aliens and actors in the buff. Or as the warnings on our website say, ‘nudity, very coarse language, haze and smoke machines, use of a herbal cigarette, strobe effects, sexual content, feathers, violent scenes’. Yes feathers.
We asked director Daisy Noyes to explain the crazy and imaginative set a little further:
Where did the inspiration come from for the FABW design?
When Kate and Emma and I first started talking about the design, we had a few key words that we were throwing around, some of which were more conceptual things like “down the rabbit hole”, but also motifs from the play itself like “bar”, “mess hall”, “sci-fi”, “landing pad” and “purgatory”. The play is filled with surreal images, like the soldiers wearing kilts in the jungle, and the ritual where a nude man and a girl in a wedding dress are forced to fight each other, things like that, and I think we all found this surreal quality the most exciting direction for the design. I also wanted to create a world that would allow the actors to move between all the spaces that they talk about in the text: a posh breakfast table, the African jungle, the underworld/purgatory, a tacky bar, the fields of a remembered country childhood. These transformations of space are what a lot of our rehearsal work with the actors focused on.
One of the biggest reasons that I wanted to work with Kate and Emma was because of the way they weave the set and lights seamlessly together. Kate’s stage aesthetic is so particular and it’s never an obvious or totally literal choice. She constructs these immersive worlds that are like nothing you’ve really ever seen before, almost like an installation for the actors to inhabit, full of textures and details that create meaning almost subconsciously. So when Kate and Emma lead the way toward a futuristic, mirrored, man-made space with lots of shiny surfaces and glass and chrome I got really excited. Glass is a great theme in the play: the invading aliens have arrived on earth in search of glass, which they eat. We were also interested in what a mirrored wall surface could do for the underworld: perhaps looking at yourself for eternity in a mirror is a good metaphor for hell.
Tell us about The Rabble.
Kate and Emma started The Rabble in 2006 in Melbourne, with Syd Brisbane. It started as a collective of artists who were interested in supporting each other’s work and creating a conversation between the works themselves. They’ve got a strong relationship with CarriageWorks and have done three shows there, which I think has established their reputation as a truly innovative young company with a very strong visual aesthetic and a particularly dark and absorbing take on the world. I met The Rabble about three years ago when I dramaturged their show Salome.
What is the concept behind the pole dancing pole on the Stables stage?
The pole is the anchor for the whole stage and doubles as a kind of a boat mast during some scenes, as a sort of jungle tree in others, and of course as a stripper pole. It’s actually a piece of scaff pole on a bracket; we had a stripper pole in the rehearsal room but it was too short for the Stables Theatre itself. For me, the pole is important because it is an element of verticality in an otherwise quite horizontal space, and that connects to the idea of going “down the rabbit hole” or “down to the underworld” which the whole unit does over the course of the show.
Were the white underpants always a central feature of the design?
For the costumes, we steered away from doing any recognizable camo and helmet look: the feeling of this play is not realistic or naturalistic. Instead, we talked about the importance of a uniform for the group, but one that used a totally unfamiliar image. Inspiration came from the hot humid rainy jungle, the tribal feel that develops as the unit begins to disintegrate over the course of the play, the notion that they are trapped and fighting for their lives, and the way the women of higher rank are constantly trying to get the men to sleep with them. Out of this came the fluoro and white bikinis and the ponchos and the fur.
The white bottoms evolved from an earlier idea of a high-waisted bikini bottom. To me they’re sort of like an east-German sci-fi gladiator costume. It’s also important that they’re white because seven actors on the small stage in hazy green reflected lights can disappear a little, but the whiteness of the bottoms helps the audience keep track of them visually. They’re actually the opposite of camo in that way.
How long did the actors have to train to pilot the remote control helicopter?
We bought the helicopters even before rehearsals began because the remote control guy I was talking to suggested it took a while to learn how to fly them with control. So we brought three of them into rehearsals on the first day thinking we should schedule some time every day with them to get good at it, but then Kade just picked one up and flew it around and totally knew how to do it. I think he’d already had some experience with them, so he became the helicopter pilot, and he even fixes them and gives them tune ups before each show.