A tension-filled head scratcher, unease is apparent from the get-go in Far Away. A young girl, Joan (played by Noray Hosny, who alternates in the role with Darcy Sterling-Cox), is spending the night at her aunt Harper’s (Alison Whyte) place. It is the wee small hours and both are still up. Joan tells Harper she heard shrieking. Her aunt dismisses the noise as that of birds. But Joan insists it was more like a person screaming, going on to reveal the details of what ensued. She admits to having climbed out the window, into a tree and being witness to some apparently sinister goings on. There were people, a lorry, cries, striking and blood. Given the weight of all those happenings, Harper relents and tells Joan the truth (or, at least, her version of it). She implores Joan to keep it a secret.
Next, we cut to a hat factory, where a long serving milliner, Todd (Darcy Kent), is working alongside Joan (Lucy Ansell), for whom it is her first day on the job. The pair crafts personalised, often outrageous head covering for regular hat parades. Todd is deeply suspicious about how the company they work for wins its contracts. He believes management is corrupt and the employees are underpaid. He and Joan quickly strike a chord. Joan proves to be highly creative, but before long she, too, is spooked.
With fine performances, an evocative set and lighting, and haunting music, Far Away certainly piqued my interest. I found Far Away compelling, but confusing because, as is my usual practice, I saw the play without reading about it first. It ended and I didn’t fully comprehend just what went down. It was only when I read about it subsequently that the pieces started to fall into place. Hence, I want to provide some context.
British playwright Caryl Churchill has written an incendiary work in which the world is on the precipice, increasing sliding into chaos. As an adult, we meet Joan 15 years after we first encounter her. Foreboding is apparent throughout. Characters are afraid of speaking freely because of the potential consequences. It appears that Big Brother is watching. Although perplexing, I greatly appreciated the intensity of the production. The hat parade – a cavalcade of the bizarre – is certainly an eye opener. The representation of the factory, with a surfeit of hat boxes positioned far and wide, and an extended desk on which the product is created, is superb. Dann Barber is the designer.
All the actors do fine jobs trying to navigate the distress inherent in the piece. Director Cassandra Fumi has given each of them breathing room and, as a result, they excel. Alison Whyte sets the tone. Noray Hosny shows persistence. Darcy Kent is determined, but apprehensive. Lucy Ansell transitions from freewheeling to scared. From the opening, Rachel Lewindon’s soundscape ratchets up the worry, while Rachel Burke’s lighting helps set the sombre mood. Far Away may take work to figure out, but I found it a journey well worth taking. It is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 31st July, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Venus in Fur (Lightning Jar) – theatre review
- Monsters (Malthouse Theatre) – theatre review
- Hand to God (Alex) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.