In the last month of a gruelling year, with theatres cracking their doors open once again, Night Writes sat down with director Hailey McQueen and lead actor Grace Naoum, playing Molly, to discuss their upcoming production Molly Sweeney with Clock & Spiel Productions.
What sparked your interest in this project?
HM: I read the play as part of a compilation of plays by Brian Friel… stating the obvious but what a writer! Molly Sweeney stood out to me with its intricate beauty and complexity within its simple theatrical form. I knew I wanted to do it one day.
GN: The script is beautiful, and the opportunity to work with Clock & Spiel.
How does Molly’s story speak to Australia in 2020?
HM: When the world, as my mum would say, “went to custard” this year, all our show plans went that way, too. Life changed almost instantly and I think we have all been given a new perspective, a new view of life, the world, and our place in it. I thought of Molly Sweeney when the opportunity to stage a show this year came almost unexpectedly. Molly experiences something similar to us. A seismic shift from knowing the world one way – through touch, smell and taste – to learning it again through sight.
GN: Given the fast-paced, visually obsessed culture that we live in, the play’s main message that seeing is not necessarily understanding is so timely and valuable.
How have you found working on this project? What were the most challenging and enjoyable aspects?
GN: Most enjoyable – working with the Molly crew. Most challenging – learning how to play someone who is blind.
HM: It has been a great joy to work with these three actors, each bringing their own special touch to the final product. Certainly the play has obvious challenges: huge volumes of text to learn and bring to life, keeping monologues dynamic, and, of course, respectfully representing someone’s blindness on stage.
Molly Sweeney discusses complex concerns about disability. How did you approach these concerns in the rehearsal room and during the production’s development?
GN: I wanted to get a taste of Molly’s world without vision as best I could. Initially I wore a blind-fold while rehearsing, I’d daily sit with my eyes closed and list what I was experiencing with my four other senses, and I researched people’s experiences of being blind.
HM: More predominately I think the play raises issues of subjugation and decision-making around how others should live and experience the world. Friel uses Molly’s blindness and subsequent vision to explore this. Clock & Spiel has a dear friend for whom blindness is a reality so we have consulted her throughout the process which has been invaluable. We have certainly felt the weight of the task but we hope we have carefully, accurately, and respectfully represented this perspective on stage.
How does this production fit into a larger discussion in Australian theatre about disability and representation? How did working on this play impact your perception of disability and representation?
GN: It showed me the necessity of not placing preconceived ideas or judgements of what life “should” be like for someone with a disability; the importance of seeking to truly understand the difficult and the good within each person’s situation. There’s a need for more stories like these; people with disabilities sharing first-person stories. I have been challenged and humbled by Molly’s fierce optimism and resilience as well as the depth of struggle in the face of her disability.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
HM: I hope they will get lost in Molly, Frank and Mr Rice’s world for a few hours then I hope people will leave thinking about the concept of blind sight – what we see and don’t see, what we hope to see and don’t see. The concept of true insight and understanding when it comes to those around us.
GN: The play draws on the importance of truly listening and not enforcing on the other your own expectations of what their life should be like. Also, the importance of having faith beyond what we can see.
What’s next for you?
GN: A Christmas break. Mm-mmm!
NOTE: Responses have been edited for clarity.
Molly Sweeney will be running at Flight Path Theatre from December 8th – 13th. For more information and to get tickets, please visit Flight Path’s website.
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