For the inaugural production of IGNITE Collective, New Ghosts Theatre brings two new Australian works about disfunctional and unusual Christmas celebrations to the stage. In Good People, the hours spent waiting in an airport stretch into unfathomable eternity while the women of Shandy’s Corner learn to lean on each other in times of grief and joy.
IGNITE Collective is a group of 32 female theatre-makers lead by Lucy Clements set on making more space for women and bringing their stories to life. These two works will be the first of many to come out of this collective and its collaborative efforts.
Airports are often described as liminal spaces, outside of distinct time and place, a pause between where you’re going and where you’ve been. In Katy Warner’s script, a group of old high school friends and a fifth-wheel girlfriend are awaiting news amongst the detritus of Christmas cheer after another delay to their flight. Clare Hennessy’s sound design captures the unendurable span of time with a faint holiday hits playlist. It all seems painfully banal until the snaps and cracks in conversation reveal a tragedy to their circumstances: after experiencing an unexplained explosion, the group were rushed to the airport by assumed authorities but they’ve now spent hours unenlightened of what happened. Rather than the giggly unravelling of overtired holidayers returning home, the audience witnesses the immediate impact of trauma butting up against long unquestioned presumptions of privilege and responsibility.
Warner’s writing is sparse with characters keeping many of the details of their ordeal close to their chests. It works to form a close intimacy between the women, reminiscent of their high school days, and is compelling storytelling for the audience who want more answers than the script supplies. Clements’s direction is careful, playing with physical space to bolster the underlying tension of every sideways glance and quick quip.
Characterisations are well-pitched between the extremists, Remi (Emma Wright) who wants to stay no matter the costs and Rosie (Jane Watt) who will leave with the same determination, and the more measured responses from Cara (Sasha Dyer) and Kate (Laura Djanegara) who just want to know what’s going on. Tabina (Clementine Anderson) is particularly heartbreaking to watch as her sense of self crumbles in the face of irrefutable evidence of unstomachable circumstances. Jess (Chika Ikogwe) as the only character afforded an opportunity to do anything, namely a live interview with a national news network, doesn’t escape the sour impotence of her position.
Good People takes a hard look at privilege and challenges you to consider what you would do in an emergency without leaving room for clean, satisfying answers.
Gretel Vella’s play Shandy’s Corner casts Christmas in a similarly sombre light, setting the action in a women’s refuge with the cast welcoming a new resident to their Christmas table. The women are equal parts quirky and troubled, turning to the refuge for shelter and support after experiences of abandonment, illness, violence, and disadvantage. While they have found camaraderie with each other, the introduction of Edith (Clementine Anderson) draws attention to their odd coping mechanisms and quickly throws their rituals into chaos.
Vella’s script is delicate and shows deep compassion for the people her characters represent. Clements’s direction and the ensemble’s performances are powerfully honest from Zoe Jensen’s overflowing Shandy to Harriet Gordon-Anderson’s gut punch as Camille. Meg Clarke as Lizzie and Laura Djanegara as Sarah-Jane hold their characters’ disappointments lightly with a controlled emotional balance that buoys dark moments. And in Anderson’s arc, her connection with Amara’s (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash) resignation and Camille’s resilience, settles the production as an unforgettable theatre experience.
For the first two productions of IGNITE Collective, Good People and Shandy’s Corner promise many more unflinching and sincere works to come.
Blue Christmas is running at Kings Cross Theatre from December 11th – 22nd