South Australian-born Chris Pitman is the writer and star of the new one-man play, Shore Break. Young director Chelsea Griffith makes up the other half of this creative team, and together they bring to life the world of an unnamed narrator who, after a lifetime of hardship and heartbreak, has embraced a form of self-isolation. From his lonely camp on a rugged Australian coastline, he relives old memories and ponders his place on the fringes of society.
It’s an intimate, stripped-back performance. All audience members sit on the stage, eye to eye with Pitman. The lighting is simple, the props are few and the only sound is the narrator’s voice, leaving the task of evoking this character’s life to Pitman’s skill as a storyteller. Even with the weight of the play resting on his delivery, he resists overdoing anything. His movements are relaxed – sitting, rising to pace a little, standing still in contemplation – and his tone is conversational: coarse language and rich poetry mixing naturally, and punctuated with thoughtful silences. When the moments of big emotion do arrive, they feel well-earned.
Isolated though he is, our narrator is not the only character in this story. He conjures vivid portraits of people from his past: his chain-smoking mother, a silent father who, in passing on a love of the ocean, gave his son the only gift he could, his schoolfriend turned gang leader and an earnest English teacher – tight-trousered and with a ‘voice like low-fat yoghurt’.
In recalling these figures, he reflects on the ways they have shaped his life, and questions the extent of his own responsibility for the disconnection that has plagued his relationships. Perhaps his most significant loss is that of his girlfriend, who insisted that people and community were the only things that mattered.
For Pitman’s narrator, however, it is not in other people but in the ocean that he finds connection, acceptance and beauty. Shore Break contains passages of stunning imagery of the feeling of being alone on the water: of lying on a surfboard far out at sea, surrounded on every side by a grey, horizonless expanse, or learning to hold your breath long enough to dive to the very bottom and dig your hands into the sand of the ocean floor.
There are echoes of Tim Winton in Shore Break’s troubled, reminiscing narrator, the descriptions of the wild beauty of the Australian coastal landscape and the rhythms of a colourful Aussie vernacular. Pitman, in this understated piece, takes us beneath the surface of a quiet life, finding hidden depths of emotion and experience.
Writer and Performer: Chris Pitman
Director: Chelsea Griffith
Shore Break will be performed until 13 May 2023.