THE MILL ON THE FLOSS | from BEHIND CLOSED DOORS 28 July – 13 August Review by Meredith Fuller for TAGG.Com fullercurioCity

Michael Cathcart, Hannah (Producer), Lorraine, Meredith
Michael Cathcart, Hannah (Producer), Lorraine, Meredith

What could be even more intriguing than an evening at the theatre in Melbourne? Combine it with an earlier visit to see how the performance group breathes life into the play during rehearsals, and how they warm up before the production! I’m impressed with a new series of workshops, visits, and talks to provide theatre goers with a felt experience and an informative peek backstage – this is a terrific concept for people who want to understand how much energy and effort is required prior to the theatre performance. Anyone who works with people will enjoy observing how individual actors and the group functions as they coalesce.

Optic Nerve’s workshop coordinator Loraine Little has tailored these ‘experiences’ for neophytes to stalwarts – contact her at

“BEHIND CLOSED DOORS” is one of three workshops being offered by the company as part of their coming season of ‘The Mill on the Floss’ at Theatre Works 28 JULY to 13 AUGUST. Enabling access to all of the threads of theatre, the program offers an enjoyable insight into the process director Tanya Gerstle has developed over her last 30 years in theatre and performance, and as Head of Theatre at the VCA.

“For those who are curious, this has been a chance to experience a little of the
process that goes into the creation of the visceral work of director Tanya Gerstle,” she explains.

Kate, Michael and I form a small audience up the back to view a rehearsal, and enjoy the cast’s messy formulation of this timeless theatre piece about a young woman’s courageous life’s journey.

Both theatre patrons and any theatre practitioners (new and experienced) will enjoy watching the way different directors and actors go about their craft. Many months go into producing the theatre season, and I’m sure that workshop participants will appreciate accompanying parts of this massive journey and being informed about the extensive effort required; some may be shocked by extreme morphing from rehearsal to performance.

During this reasonably early rehearsal, Gerstle challenges the actors to engage during every moment by exhorting them to, “ask what you’re seeing and feeling…would it be interesting if you put yourself, say, under this table? Don’t ask me, just crawl in and try it. I may say ‘no, it’s in the way, but make the offer!’ ”

While still in exploration stage, the cast plays with ideas and moves – providing an opportunity to throw out what doesn’t work, and uncover some gems. Decisions need finalizing swiftly as next week they begin lighting the stage. After listening to the story and propelling their bodies, they will much later put it all together with the dialogue – this different approach, developed by Gerstle, is called ‘pulse’.

Gerstle, is a vital director who combines her background as an actor and director with an exciting personal intensity. Her approach is like that of a choreographer, stretching the actors to bring a fresh verisimilitude to the work.

Watch for a scene where the mesmerizing Zahra Newman vigorously scrubs the floor on her hands and knees with her unruly hair mopping the air in unison. Grant Cartwright commands terror in his rare moment of stillness when he chastises his chattel – a chilling highpoint of the silliness of male supremacy.

Throughout the play we are accosted in every chakra by the DIRGE – 14th century chanting that haunts with stark beauty yet provides a paucity of comfort. The actors have exquisite voices, and the building of the Dirge is magnificent. We’re reminded that the Dirge was popularized by folk groups in the 1960’s, but I’m certain the younger audience members will doubtless re-remember from ancient patterning in the fabric of our ancestry.

THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by George Eliot, performed by Optic Nerve Performance Group – a stage version adapted by Helen Edmundson of the beloved novel. Showcasing former staff and students from VCA, this production features graduates from over 15 years. They include: Zahra Newman, Grant Cartwright, Luisa Hastings Edge, Tom Heath, Rosie Lockhart, Maddie Nunn, George Lingard, and James O’Connell.

Tickets: $ 30 – $ 26

Workshops (limited places available)

Foundation Pulse, August 1 – 5, 12.00 – 4.00 (for actors)

Directing Text with the Physical Actor, August 8 – 12, 12.00 – 4.00 (for director/actors)!2016-residency-1/ff05t

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