On the centenary of the eminent English novelist DHLawrence’s visit to Australia in 1922, Playscript is proud to announce a season of the theatrical work ‘Somewhere South’ which explores the events, characters and ideas of this visit. The show uses an exciting mix of styles, including drama, magical realism, verse, movement and storytelling, to capture Lawrence’s ideas and characters, as well as his encounters with groups and leaders on the left and of right. Kangaroo and Struthers’ dramatized characters tick off ideas and polarities in public life that are still relevant today. Personally, and in his writing and thought, Lawrence was transformed by his experience of the beauty in the ocean bush and the mountains of the South Coast.
This work is inspired by Lawrence’s book “Kangaroo” written when he was in Australia. Shaun Foley plays Lawrence, Mel Day his wife Frieda, Dominic Collier plays multiple roles (Kangourou, Struthers, Jack, Ezra Pound) and Katrina Maskell plays Victoria and the Muse who serves as a whimsical narrator. The show uses Archibald winning painter Garry Shead’s striking imagery from his DH Lawrence series as part of its style.
The work is written by Geoffrey Sykes, who has had over thirty professional presentations of his work. It was presented for the first time about ten years ago in Thirroul, near Lawrence’s place, where it was very well received, and it was re-presented on the occasion of the centenary with a solid cast. It is entertaining and challenging work with important insights into Australian identity and values.
Why did you write a play on DHLawrence?
Syke: There are several reasons. Lawrence remains a prominent figure in modern literature, attracting new biographies and publication of his essays and shorter works. Kangaroothe book he wrote while in Australia, in particular touches on political and naturalistic perspectives not really present in his well-known earlier novels such as women in love and Sons and lovers. Australia was a divided society – his portrayal of politics left and right resonates with politics today.
I also live on the south coast of NSW, near Thirroul, where he stayed, which may have partly stimulated this work.
Is this a first production?
A regional production was carried out in 2011, in the new community space of Thirroul. These four performances were well attended and the show was greatly appreciated. I hope the response to this reassembled show will be just as strong. The centenary of his visit was partly the motivation for this comeback – also the desire to present the work’s style and ideas to a wider audience.
Did the south coast where he stayed make much of an impression on him?
You mean the escape, the beaches and the rugged coastline? Indeed, there are masterful evocations of it in his book, and the exhibition records this aspect of his visit. Raised as a working-class young man from Nottingham, he engaged with nature as he had never done before, and his writing and ideas were transformed as a result. For example, he entertained ideas about the unconscious present in the world, about forces, beauty and magical qualities. The show depicts through realistic magical techniques encounters he had with a bird on the beach.
Wasn’t he famous for his innovative exploration of sensuality and sex?
It was in his previous books – and paid a heavy price. His books were burned at some point in London and his persecution was one of the reasons for his travels. In Australia, sexual energy and personal intimacy are transformed into connection with the land, but also with political leaders. He was much more in the world, but in a very imaginary way.
Is ‘Kangourou’ a good book?
It’s uneven, maybe two books in one, it’s an interesting read, but meant to be a cooking pot to do much needed things royalty fee. So while there is experimental prose, inspired in part, according to the show, by the imagist ideas of modernist writers in England, such as Pound and Eliot, whom he met, much of the political drama could be accentuated. There are the elements of a great Aussie novel, but it took longer for that to happen. However, as a record of its time it is invaluable and, as I said, the book offers unique ideas still current.
Why didn’t he stay longer than 12 weeks?
Good question. His trip was sponsored by a patron from New Mexico in the United States. He was eventually forced to go to the United States – but it seems he left Australia a little hastily. The play examines the tensions this caused between him and his wife Freida, suggesting that she had come to like the lifestyle they had on the coast. The play generally explores living relationships between couples. The play also suggests that Lawrence was threatened by covert members of the right, who were not happy to be depicted in his novel.
Did you enjoy the rehearsal period?
It is such a privilege to work with talented and committed actors. Mel Day, Shaun Foley, Dominic Collier and Katrina Maskell are all strong in their roles and preparation. The show couldn’t happen without them. Rehearsals were also helped by the studio we run Leichhardt – it’s great to have a house of props and equipment and for extended rehearsals.
Do you collaborate with the Australian painter Garry Shead?
Yes, his paintings from the DH Lawrence series were screened in the 2011 production – now they are seen more continuously. They add a special dimension. I was interested in the multilayer or multifaceted manufacturing for many years.
How long have you been writing for theatre?
Well decades in fact – professionally, but part-time due to his commitments to academic research and teaching, as well as video production. There have actually been over 30 productions – here, in other states and abroad. Everything adds up. A good number were commissions for major cultural venues such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I guess it’s in the blood, and I’m trying to give more time and accomplish a bit more right now. This will be my third production This year. Currently Outside of Africa is at the Seymour Centre, and it has been very well received by good audiences and good reviews.
Do you have any final thoughts to add?
Well, the final thought – or thoughts because I’m sure there will be many – comes from the production itself and its audience, and any debate or outcome that ensues. Does a writer who lived and visited 100 years ago have something to say today? We will know soon.
Venue: Chippen Street Theater
Dates: November 3-12, 2022
For tickets click HERE