I make no bones about being an avid supporter of new work- of any kind. In fact I take pleasure in the hunt to find new scripts brimming with new ideas, new approaches to theatre- I love the hunt for new work- I often refer to it as treasure hunting. I love new work because of its unknown parameters. Its dark hidden corners and its undiscovered territories- I’m not afraid to go there and encounter a play on it’s own terms- and although some writing is not to my personal taste I can always admire the playwright’s tenacity and bravery in contributing to the long winding history of theatrical story-telling. It’s not easy. It’s often painful and unrewarding.

I first encountered Jonathan Ari Lander’s writing in July last year- when he submitted a piece to Brand Spanking New 2009. “Measure” had enjoyed a reading at The Stables, where Lander was one of Griffin’s playwrights in residence, performed by Felino Delloso and Paula Arundell directed by Anthony Skuse. I included Lander’s script in BSN 2009- it’s first full production directed by Tanya Dickson (who is now at VCA studying directing) performed by Felino Delloso and Suz Mawer. Enthusiastic as some playwrights are- Lander sent me Redemption to have a read through… and I thought there were some good ideas in there- it was the post apolocalyptic suffocation which was painted in his world which intrigued me- a world in which lust and familial duty were constantly at odds. A world in which humanity had reverted to the struggle between faith and science. A resetting of humanity. A play which spoke of the claustrophobia of isolation.

On the cover page of the script “Dramaturged by Timothy Daly”- whom I had also incuded in BSN 2009- whom I hold in high esteem was a pretty weighty name to include. I read the script and told Lander that though I wasn’t able to produce any full length works- but if he was looking for a development that perhaps Off The Shelf would be a good place to apply- just to give it time and space. When I received Lander’s application to Off the Shelf, I realised that it had already had a lengthy series of residencies and developments- including one with Benedict Andrews- and I feared that Lander’s play would be stuck in a never ending cycle of development- bouncing from one residency to another- never having the benefit of being received by a live audience.

So I encouraged him that if he loved the play (I believe I said, “If you love this play, if you truly love it, put your money where your heart is give it $5,000-$10,000, work hard on the script and put it on”) to pursue it. And he has.

Tamarama Rock Surfers have once again stepped up to the plate and taken an honourable punt on a new play. Director Fiona Pulford, some brave actors and a collection of designers have put on the play. Upon seeing this production of Redemption I had declined to write it up – it was not something I felt comfortable talking about considering my history with the script. But on insistence from the production company and TRS, I have yielded. This is not intended as marketing copy, or a regurgitated media release- this is a brief post to provide my perspective on the production for the artists who have made this work.

Recently at the NOT the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, there was some discussion about how to judge a new play- could a literary judge qualify the value of a play based on script alone? Or were plays more like sculptures ie do they needed to have productions in order to be fully appreciated /understood? Unfortunately many productions of new plays are left to the struggling independent sector- a sector which is under resourced, and without the luxury of time, or money. It is unfortunate that new plays are often judged on their productions- they shouldn’t be… we should look past the litres of fake blood and the easter-egg wrapper tinsel falling on the stage- beyond the white contact lenses- and seek to hear the story- understand the message.

I believe that the writing must always be the loudest part of the production- that the writer’s job is to make the play director proof, designer proof and actor proof. And by that I do not mean be overly prescriptive- by that I mean limit the opportunity by which your work- the ideas, themes and message of the play can be misconstrued. Make the tone of the piece clear. Make the genre clear. But above all else make the story clear. Do not rely on design tricks, soundscapes, lighting design and smoke machines dictate the story. Let the story dictate all the design elements- infact the story should be able to be conveyed without ANY of these things- they serve to enhance not to distract- as soon as they distract- they detract from the audience’s attention and engagement with the ideas. Keep it simple. Priviledge clarity in presentation- encourage the audience to bring to your production the most rich and valuable asset they have- their imaginations. Don’t visually talk down to them with bleeding walls and design trickery -they are there to use their minds- and they will if you give them a chance- tell them its raining blood and they’ll imagine it (much more effective- and you can save money on you’re fake blood budget).

Something I found curious- and this was confirmed after a brief chat with some men afterwards- men are more likely to be coaxed and manipulated pre-coitus not post-coitus. It seemed that the manipulation of the lead male character primarily occurs after sex- and I found this to be baffling. I also found the relationships completely bizarre and unbelievable- no one really held onto their convictions. Furthermore no one seemed to observe any aspect of the religion they felt bound to- no compassion, no love, no piety- no ritual. It was something spoken of, but not shown- and as a result- I didn’t believe they were scared of or loved their god. I thought they were pretending- and if they are pretending to fear god- the stakes are lowered. If the stakes are lowered-it’s a bit of a “so what?” scenario. I found no character I related to- none I had compassion or empathy for- none I wanted to win. None I believed in- all of them seemed selfish and egotistical and sex-obsessed.

And lastly- I don’t exactly know what made this a new play- the ideas weren’t new- the message- what I could glean- was not a new message- or one told in an elegant, interesting, new or different way. What was I to learn that I couldn’t have learnt from Orestes, Oedipus, Promethus or the Bible? What is Lander trying to tell me?

Perhaps this is the cautionary tale about too much development? Perhaps it’s the case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? Perhaps Lander took too much advice from all the developments he engaged in? Or perhaps he didn’t take enough advice- perhaps he spent all his time in workshops and dramaturgical sessions defending his play? I don’t know. I have no idea. It seemed that the play has too many ideas, too many genres clashing and colliding- too many conflicting tones- I’m just not sure what to make of it beyond post apolocalypic/gothic softcore porn.

New play hunting is a treasure hunt- and sometimes, just sometime you hit gold. And sometimes you spend the whole time digging through mud. This play is mud. It’s muddy, confused, confusing and cluttered. That’s not to say Lander’s next play won’t be. It doesn’t mean that he is not capable of offering some gold at some stage- this play, this production, this time, is mud- and I encourage Lander and all involved to dig a little deeper next time.