Church, like all sacred places, is a space for contemplation, where people seek answers for life’s trials and even grapple with the great unknown of death. In collaboration with the Rev Bill Crews Foundation, playwright Warwick Moss bring those concerns to the fore with a new short play spanning life, heaven, and hell.
After the great quiet that settled onto Ashfield Uniting Church during the COVID-19 restrictions, Reverend Bill Crews decided to reimagine that space as a performance venue, bringing the community together once again. The Silver Tunnel is the premiere production for the space and it engages with the concerns of many of the poor and unhoused community the Rev Bill Crews Foundation supports each week. Namely regret, loneliness, forgiveness, and the unshakeable love of life.
Harry (Ric Herbert) is a gravedigger so being a loner kind of comes with the territory. It doesn’t help, though, that Harry speaks to the dead and they speak back. While tending to his favourite seven, a group of First Fleeters who all died by suicide on the third day of the fourth month, Harry comes across Jason (Tim Matthews). Son of a doctor, Jason isn’t usually one to hang around in graveyards but he’s been called to this group of seven and Harry because of a dark secret. Quickly Harry and Jason realise they’re kindred spirits with the pull of suicide tugging equally on their consciences. From this fateful meeting on a stormy night, the two eventually navigate through Heaven and Hell together in search of the Silver Tunnel and another chance at life.
Moss’s script is zealous, taking on big topics with two very passionate characters. Harry is a complicated character, carrying around a deep-seated anger that remains a bit of a mystery, whereas Jason has every reason to be angry and chooses love. But Moss does attempt to find nuance in the dichotomous imagery of heaven and hell with extensive discussion of suicide. The script asks the audience, can someone who died by suicide go to heaven? Can someone love life and still choose death?
With such a large undertaking, the script does contain elements that aren’t successful. As a two-hander, the dialogue is often bogged down with heavy exposition and unnatural segues. The allusions to colonisation and the Indigenous people who lived on the land now housing British colonisers’ graves was interesting but vague and could have benefited from more exploration. Something that stood out, though, was Moss’s focus on masculinity and the pressures placed on men to act aggressively, protectively, fearlessly. It was meaningful to see two men develop an open and honest relationship based on spirituality and love.
Herbert plays Harry as a real bloke struggling with unknown demons. He’s unpredictable and unsavoury but also quite true-to-life. In particular, Herbert appears very comfortable in Harry’s skin which lends his portrayal a unique lived-in quality. Matthews’s Jason is like a counter-balance; timid and unsure but absolutely burning up with anger. This shared anger is what forms the initial bond between the two but, once they reunite in Heaven, it’s the alternate ways they learn to combat that anger that shapes them as characters.
This collaboration with the Rev Bill Crews Foundation keeps its community front of mind, welcoming disadvantaged guests to attend. The Silver Tunnel, with its central theme of the love of life, is a fitting production to bring a community together and find a sense of connection again.
The Silver Tunnel is running at Ashfield Uniting Church from November 9th – 14th
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