Developed through MTC's NEXT STAGE Writers' Program, Benjamin Law's debut play investigates the bonds that tie families together and the stuff that unites, and divides, them. We spoke to director Dean Brant about this world premiere production, wading through complex subject matter and the challenges of working on a stage overflowing with props.
In your opinion, what is Torch the Place about?
Primarily it’s about the importance of being heard, especially by those you love and rely on. If you can speak about what you’ve gone through, you can work through traumatic experiences and have a better chance at recovering from them.
It’s about how hard it is for children to see what their parents need, how hard it is to even recognise that your parents have needs, as you’ve grown up with them tending to you from the second you were born.
It’s about the place of stuff in our lives – how many products enter our homes and begin to take over, and how difficult it is. It’s about how much easier it is to love objects than people.
And it’s about how all of the previous are amplified by the migrant experience – just as you need to be heard more, there are less people who can understand you. Objects become talismans to show that the journey was worth it, that you’ve succeeded by upending your life and moving to a new country.
How would you describe the performance style of this production you’re directing?
I would say it’s heightened naturalism. We are playing real people, with a sense of the heightened comedy that is a trademark of Benjamin Law’s writing.
How would you describe the actor–audience relationship in Torch the Place? And connected to that, could you tell us how you direct an audience interaction scene?
It’s mostly fourth-wall until the scene where the audience member gets involved, and then it clearly reminds the audience we are all people in a room together. It’s always exciting to remind an audience that theatre is live, that it is a group of people a metre away making this story happen for you. That you have been part of it the whole time, your laughter changes the show.
What’s the most exciting challenge for you in Torch the Place, and how are you going about solving it?
There are so many challenges in this play. New work is always incredibly difficult, as there’s no set thing of what it is; everything is up for grabs. And the subject matter is hoarding, so you can imagine trying to represent that believably on stage, having so much stuff but also trying to have room to act around, give the audience a view, and also start trying to get rid of things as the family deals with the problem.
Torch the Place is on at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio, from 8 February.
Published on 10 February 2020