Playwright and former human rights lawyer, Suzie Miller, takes us through her experience in writing her new play Caress/Ache, which has its world premiere at Griffin on 27 February.
Caress/Ache is a work that has been many years in the writing and will always be a piece that I am immensely connected to. In the lead up to the 2005 execution of young Australian Nguyen Tuong Van in Singapore following a conviction for drug trafficking, the Singaporean government asserted its rule that the young man could not be hugged (or hug) his desperate mother before his death.
Driving around Sydney, intricately involved as a human rights lawyer at the time, I was reflecting upon some of the aspects of the sentence. The inhumanity of execution is of course a big picture human rights violation, and yet somehow this other rule of no hugging, struck me profoundly. More than inhumane there was an innate cruelty in this rule to both the convicted and also powerfully to his mother – and this cruelty was based on the power of a basic human sensory system. To deny such a fundamental form of human touch was ironically, also to recognise its beauty and its power – this concept planted the seed for the story that would become Caress/Ache.
Grappling with ideas such as these took me on a journey about what touch is in its many forms – an innate sensory element and expression of love and desire, its intense power for cruelty and abuse, and how interweaved such things can be. So too was I exploring the notion of being ‘touched’ by moments, poetry and art. The stories in this play are an attempt to follow those threads.
I am honoured to be part of Griffin, the wonderful writers’ theatre of Australia, a national gem and a theatre steeped in both Australian theatrical history and the stories of this country. In Lee Lewis I have found an amazing Artistic Director who fell in love with this play and fought to have it brought to the stage. I thank her for her commitment to this work, and for the exciting vision she has brought to the company. I was encouraged by the Griffin to team up with director Anthony Skuse who has politically, intellectually and lovingly gripped my play, embraced the characters and pushed it to a deeper place. Skuse is a man of extraordinary intelligence and talent, and our conversations about this play, politics and poetry have been inspiring. I owe gratitude to the National Theatre in London who nurtured this play through a long studio development, to Marion Potts, Liam Steele Choreographer; to Caleb Lewis and Camilla Rountree for dramaturgy, and the many people who I interviewed as research for this work. I thank my family Robert B, Gabriel, Sasha, Elaine, Robert M and others for their love throughout.
I so hope my audience feels this play. It is a play to feel and question as much as it is to watch, engage with, laugh and agonise over.
Suzie Miller, playwright.