“In a shitty flat sit two shitty people, shitty lives hanging out all over the place” This is the precursor for Blessed, a new theatrical work that is to debut as part of this years Poppy Seed Festival. Written by Melbourne writer Fleur Susannah and presented by Attic Erratic, the work explores inter generational poverty in Australia and how this sits within the context of religious mythology. TAGG spoke with Fluer ahead of the season
Tell us about your background, where are you from, and what inspiration do you draw from the every day?
I am from Adelaide, location-wise. In terms of art, my background is both in directing and writing. For some people, this can mean that the two roles blur together – they begin directing their writing or re-writing the scripts they are working on – but I have found the opposite: working as a director has given me immense faith in directors.
I think I observe people, cities, light very closely. I don’t tend to lift whole conversations or narratives from the real world but I’ll plagiarise my own observations constantly, and use them to colour or detail a moment.
Fleur, what led you to write Blessed, what are some of the concepts and themes that you are wanting to explore?
Two thoughts, The Bible.There was this day in Year 5. We were all given different Bible stories to illustrate. I was given Abraham and Isaac and I read it and I went to the teacher and I said “this is fucked!” or however ten-year-old Fleur talked and she said “Oh I probably should have taken that one out.”
I think about that a lot. That her answer to a child confronting this shitty, difficult story in this book, this book that still defines our morality, was “I probably should have taken that one out.”
I think that’s why I do it. (This will be my second Biblical play and not my last.) I maul Bible stories. Maul or humanise. Make them have modern-day repercussions and emotions. I’ll leave the Greek tragedies to the other theatre-makers, we’ll take the ones that are still being read aloud every week. Those old stories that people pore over in search of new meaning.
They’re big stories. They reach right down into what makes us a society and yet I don’t think we ask enough questions of them. I don’t think we make them human. And theatre is really good at making things human.
And secondly; Australian poverty. When I was writing this I was thinking a lot about Jim Cartwright’s 1987 play, Road, this angry, beautiful, messy British play, which rages against the poverty inflicted by the closing of the mines. A play that ends with four young people screaming “somehow a somehow I might escape” into the dark. I was wondering what an angry, beautiful, messy contemporary Australian play that raged against poverty would look like. Well, the poverty wouldn’t be caused by the mines. It would be intergenerational. Which, for many, feels even more inescapable because there seems to be little any government or body can do to fix it. And it would be on the edges of our cities. On the edges of our consciousness. These wouldn’t be the British, fist-shaking, sign-waving poor. These would be the quiet, forgettable people. The ones who make us uncomfortable on the train but are almost forgotten once headphones go on.
And what would it take for these two to escape? An act of God. A literal hand reaching down through the roof. Something has to switch the power back on and light up this whole mess.
Tell us a little about the narrative and the characters, what connection do they share?
We see the characters at two different moments in their lives: as teenagers, meeting for the first time, baffled by the connection they feel and then 15 years later, now exes, who have not seen each other in many years. For me, if was very important to show this time difference. The startling thing if how little has changed. There is a sense of stagnancy. Even 7 years of absence has changed nothing.
Is there any significance behind the show’s title?
Hard to answer this without giving away the story. The whole work is a juxtaposition of the shitty and the divine. I love giving such a beautiful, holy and delicate title to a play that is so rough and human.
What sense/emotion do you wish to evoke in the audience, and what do you feel will elicit the strongest response?
I want them to reexamine a Bible story. A story which has been served to us so many times that we accept it, stripped of its human impact and the callousness with which a frightened woman is treated. I want them to think about Australian poverty: to hear this story in their own accent and perhaps recognize the voices.
I want them to laugh a bit too. It is pretty funny.
Away from the work, what challenges are currently faced by writers, in terms of economy and society?
For most of us, we are faced by a lack of trust from companies, who doubt that audiences will want to hear from us. When companies spend money on theatre, most spend it on year after year of development without getting works to the stage. I think those that reach the stage can end up sounding too polished and clean, sanitized by so many hands scrubbing away at it. I want to see companies just take a risk, trust audiences and trust writers. There are some amazing ones out there.
How does this work fit within or go against others being presented within this years festival?
There are so many connections running through the shows. For example, I share a studio with Morgan Rose, of Riot Stage and regularly work with Yvonne Virsik, director of What’s Yours Is Mine. There is a lot of mutual love and support between the companies. I think we all share a passion for the new, the passionate and the irreverent.
Blessed opens on November 8th and plays till the 20th at The Malthouse Theatre, for more info or to book you tickets click here