I was recently accepted into the Griffin Theatre Ambassador program, giving me the excellent opportunity to see a bunch of cool plays that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
Our first session was last Saturday and I saw the world premiere of Caress/Ache- a new play by Suzie Miller.
For those who haven’t heard of Griffin Theatre Company, they’re based in Nimrod St, Kings Cross, and they produce plays that are only written, directed and acted by Australian artists (I do think the “Australian Artists” is a pretty wide spectrum, here).
Anyway, the play:
Firstly, the Nimrod Theatre is awesome- A very small intimate space fitting about 100. Even the back row is only metres away from the action- which is great for the engagement of the piece. In my opinion all theatre should be in a small scale environment- the intimacy and shared moments between actors and audience is an essential part of theatre.
Following on that point, the writer Suzie Miller mentions in the script that it could be done as a “chamber Piece or a large-scale piece”. If you, like me, don’t know what a chamber piece is, it explains so here. (“A film involving a small number of characters interacting over a short period of time in a limited environment.”)
The play is far from the “well-made play”- It features ten characters, and about six storylines, which all relate in some way – quite like Love Actually, but less comedy, more tearful silences. The interwoven storylines are full of variety in both character and context: A “lost” surgeon, The aftermath of an affair, A phone-sex company, A last goodbye.
It’s difficult to explain what the play is actually about- the only connection between the varied story lines is the characters’ relationship to, the concept of, touch.
The idea of “touching”, (or Caressing, as the title says) is the recurring theme of this play, with characters relating to it in a variety of ways. From one’s inability to touch skin, to illicit passionate touching, to the influence that words have over individuals. It reflects on the absurdity of intimate relationships without touch, and the heartbreaking consequences when such touch is banned among loved ones.
Each actor was very well cast; As an ensemble they were able to delve into the seriousness of the stories, while maintaining a surprising level of comic relief (particularly through the phone sex operators).
The set is minimal, suiting the small performance space. The props and costumes were used well. As the same five actors play multiple roles, the subtle changing of appearance (like the addition of a cardigan), helped the audience to realise the character change, without the need of elaborate costume. The minimal use of set, costumes and props allowed the audience to focus on the story, and the complex issues within the writing.
Throughout the play, a series of statements are displayed on the walls about touch, and the scientific explanation for the sensations we feel. The writing on the walls was a powerful staging choice; the words often fell over the actors’ faces- a powerful visual effect.
“Human skin and tissues contain millions of sensory receptors. Without them, there would be no capacity for people to sense the touch of another”.
This play was thought provoking, and stayed with me long after I’d left. Obviously the topical theme of Capital Punishment in society struck a nerve with the audience, However the play spurred us to consider much more. This piece explores how humans relate through touch, and the importance of touch in communication and relationships (It’s been labelled “The Hug Play”).
By taking an uncommon theme, and creating a play about it, Miller has forced the audience to consider the power of touch, free from preconceived ideas from other texts.
When we go to see a Shakespearean production, we know what to expect: A certain degree of Tragedy or Comedy (or both), and Blank Verse with Old English.
When we go to see a film about War, we know what to expect: A load of Patriotism, a grieving family, evocative depictions of PTSD, and tearful, yet heroic, death scenes.
Not often, however, do we go to see a production dedicated to the theme of “Touch”. In this way, we have no expectations, and are able to embrace the story with an open mind.
The play was exceptional, the use of set, sound, surtitles, and short scenes, combine into unique experience makes you think. The nature of theatre is to share stories that give us a different perception of humanity, and this play certainly did so. Definitely worth seeing.
Caress/ Ache is on at the SBW Stables Theatre, in Darlinghurst, until the 11th of April.