Show artwork for Uncertain journeys
Shiv Palekar in The Sound Inside. Photo: Jeff Busby
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Uncertain journeys

Before Shiv Palekar got the role of Christopher in The Sound Inside he wasn’t sure when his next job would be. He discusses how this uncertainty connected him to the play and the focus required to perform in this powerful two-hander.

By Paige Farrell

Shiv Palekar was in a weird headspace when his agent emailed him about The Sound Inside. ‘I was kind of stuck in Hong Kong over the pandemic … not knowing when I’d come back.’ He had a visa to be in Australia, but because of border closures those visas weren’t being allowed in at that time. ‘I didn’t know when I’d next work, if I would work and if I’d even come back to Australia,’ he says.

And so when Palekar opened the script, he didn’t have high hopes. But as soon as he began to read he ripped through it. ‘Usually with a play, I would read it for a bit, go do something else and come back to it. But like a novel that you can’t put down, I literally couldn’t stop.’ He felt there was something about where he was at that the play spoke to. ‘Something about the character, the general lockdown, the kind of headspace people are in in isolation and wanting connection, it really sung out to me.’

Journey to the mainstage

Before Palekar found himself in limbo in Hong Kong, he was primarily based in Sydney. He moved there in 2012 to study acting at NIDA. After graduating in 2014 he got his first job with the Bell Shakespeare Players. ‘It was the school’s national tour, which was 10 months on the road. It was the perfect opportunity to practice everything we’d learned at drama school,’ he says. He also appreciated the fact that the performances weren’t reviewed. ‘It was a really safe way to transition into the industry.’

His first mainstage role was in 2016 at Sydney Theatre Company in Disgraced, directed by The Sound Inside’s Director Sarah Goodes. Since then, he has worked with Griffin Theatre Company, Belvoir and Bell Shakespeare again. His favourite project to date is The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a four-hander by Martin McDonagh set in rural Ireland, at STC. ‘It was just before the pandemic, a super dark comedy and a lot of fun to do every night.’

 

‘We walked into something that was already alive, which we could just add to. Goodes’s vision is really clear and it’s unified the whole team in a beautiful way.’ – Shiv Palekar

 

Almost seven years since his first mainstage job, Palekar now finds himself back working with Goodes in his MTC debut. Though a little nervous before starting rehearsals, he was put at ease when he saw how in sync the creative team are. ‘Even before we got to rehearsals, there were already heaps of ideas on the table. We walked into something that was already alive, which we could just add to. Goodes’s vision is really clear and it’s unified the whole team in a beautiful way.’

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Shiv Palekar and Director Sarah Goodes in rehearsals for The Sound Inside. Photo: Charlie Kinross

In this powerful two-hander, Palekar is playing Christopher, a Yale student who forms an intriguing relationship with his creative writing professor Bella, played by Catherine McClements. We don’t learn too much about his family, but we do know his parents haven’t been very present in his life – his mother is a novelist with not much time for anything else and his dad left when he was five. ‘Christopher has been alone for a lot of his life and has had to look out for himself,’ Palekar says. ‘And I suppose he has had to make his own entertainment and some of that is through writing.’

Forging your own path

Christopher appears to be dissatisfied or angry at the world. ‘But also almost, at times, too sensitive for the world, or the games people play,’ Palekar says. When Christopher first shows up at Bella’s office wanting to talk about a novel he is writing, she asks him to please send through an email and book an appointment through the online departmental calendar before he visits again. Being told to follow bureaucratic rules enrages Christopher, resulting in him spitting on Bella’s office floor. Palekar agrees with this sentiment considering his own recent experiences with bureaucratic procedures. ‘That helps me get into his head because for the last two years I've been dealing with a lot of bureaucracy with visas, lawyers and immigration departments.’ Even though dealing with such rigid processes is infuriating, Palekar notes the drive it gives you too. ‘I think that’s a similar thing for Christopher, he’s enraged or dissatisfied with a bunch of things, but it doesn’t make him withdraw. It makes him forge his own path in his own way.’

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Shiv Palekar in The Sound Inside. Photo: Jeff Busby

It is perhaps this quality that compels Christopher to engage with Bella. ‘He recognises something very deep in her that he probably sees in himself,’ Palekar says. ‘And through their friendship he thinks he can bring her out of her current state – whether that’s writer’s block or something deeper.’ It’s clear that the two characters are each going through something, and ‘they do save each other in ways, in the sense that they give each other mercy and understanding, they help each other along their individual journeys.’

Building tension

The story of their relationship is accompanied by an undercurrent of dread simmering. ‘Something about that was really captivating to me,’ Palekar says. When he read the play he couldn’t figure out what it was. ‘It was only when we broke it down in rehearsals that I realised it’s the dread that you don’t know what’s going to happen next.’ To achieve this budding tension requires a really specific level of focus from both actors. ‘This play is like playing music or singing. If I don’t start the first scene on the right note then I’m off until the very end. It needs a great attention to detail, especially with Goodes’s vision and staging, which has been fun. But it’s a challenge for sure.’

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Shiv Palekar and Catherine McClements in The Sound Inside. Photo: Jeff Busby

But Palekar is confident the audience is ready to go along on this uncertain journey with them. ‘The piece requires the willingness to lean in to a certain extent, and so I hope they meet us at that point where they are there along with us, but they don’t know how it’s going to unfold. Adam Rapp knew what he was writing. We’re going with a particular reading of the story and the rest is up to the audience.’

The Sound Inside is on stage until 2 July at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.

Published on 9 June 2022

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