Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs theatre was sold out for the opening night of Caryl Churchill’s dystopian drama from 2000, Far Away.
An equally eerie and exciting opening introduces us to the show, as we follow a young child, Joan (Darcy Sterling-Cox), who runs out from her bedroom to her aunt Harper (Alison Whyte) after hearing frightening noises. This scene is delivered exquisitely by both actors; and almost implies that the remainder of the play will sit in this world of drama, but this is misleading.
The scene introduces the idea that there is a divide between the good and bad, and the rest of Far Away dices into the main driving factors of either side.
It is followed by a scene featuring an older Joan, working in a hat shop, which introduces some comic elements. It often doesn’t feel as if the heavy scenes work alongside the comedic moments, but the laughs on opening night revealed that some in the audience were connecting with the story. The hat shop features Joan alongside her colleague Todd. They are both busy making comically large hats – thanks to the talented work from the costume and production designers. (Curiously, there is no direct program credit for the person behind these extraordinary millinery creations, though Dann Barber is the designer, with Savanna Wegman as associate designer.)
The scene also allows Darcy Kent (Todd) and Lucy Ansell (Joan) to display their impressive acting skills. It’s clear they’ll continue to be staples of the theatre scene for years to come.
This portion of the already short play lasts the longest out of the three distinct scenes, and doesn’t seemingly do a lot for exposition. Rather, we get to dig deeper into the interesting dynamic between Joan and Todd.
For this production the fortyfivedownstairs stage has been configured with audience seating at opposite sides of the space, which makes for an excitingly immersive experience, as the actors need to deliver to both ends of the theatre space, which they do perfectly.
A hat parade featuring an array of Todd’s and Joan’s handiwork is followed by the closing scene – in which Todd has a heated discussion with Harper, before Joan returns, recounts her journey in an extended soliloquy, and then the play abruptly ends. This is where Far Away seems to hit its stride, with the play moving back into the world of drama again. It would have been exciting to see what could have followed.
It’s important to note that though the actors do an impeccable job, they are let down by a sometimes tough-to-understand story, meaning its moral is ultimately unclear.
For seasoned theatregoers and fans of Churchill’s work, or those who love new ways of storytelling and are looking for something that pushes boundaries and crosses genres, it’s certainly worth checking out Far Away.
Far Away by Caryl Churchill
Director: Cassandra Fumi
Designer: Dann Barber
Lighting Designer: Rachel Burke
Composer and Sound Designer: Rachel Lewindon
Assistant Director: Kuda Mapeza
Associate Designer: Savanna Wegman
Technical Lighting Assistant: Spencer Herd
Stage Manager: Luci Watts
Assistant Stage Manager: Finn McLeish
Producers: Ben Walter and Thalia Dudek
Cast: Alison Whyte, Lucy Ansell and Darcy Kent, with Darcy Sterling-Cox and Noray Hosny
Far Away will be performed until 30 July 2023, Arts Centre Melbourne (2-20 August), .