Written by Julian Larnach, based on the novel by Favel Parrett, Directed by Ben Winspear
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
The Rebel Theatre, Pier 2/3
12th October – 9th November 2022
Photos by Jesse Hunniford
Directed by Ben Winspear, Past the Shallows brings to the stage questions about masculinity and explores the idea of mortality and family secrets. Played in front of a backdrop of mystifying projections and told through the three talented young performers Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson and Griffin McLaughlin, this is a production that requires your undivided attention to really get the most out of Julian Larnach’s script.
Set in the harbours of the south coast of Tasmania, the isolation of the characters’ story is already established. Miles and Harry’s father, an abalone diver, is largely absent, their mother dying in a car crash recently and their father turning to be an abusive and manipulative drunk. It’s Harry’s recent unlikely friendship that digs up tumultuous family secrets and may be the final cut in the thread holding the boys’ world together.
Clarke, Hodson and McLaughlin take on the multitude of roles throughout the story, based on Favel Parrett’s best-selling book, swapping at random to each inhabit their own reflection of the themes each character brings to the story. This jumping between characters felt extremely jarring at first, demanding you to sit forward and establish each character before you could lean back and take in the ideas that bubbled to the surface throughout.
Between the three performers, there were clear characters that each played more clearly than others; Hodson resonated solidly with older brother Tommy, McLaughlin felt more comfortable as our main storyteller Miles, and Clarke brought enduring believability and heart as the youngest, Harry. There were times when the connections for each change could have been realised, a slight touch of the hand, a line that overlapped, characters sitting back-to-back, but this ultimately became part of the impressionistic style of theatre and vignettes that Winspear presented the story through.
Clarke gave the other two performers a run for their money, embodying each character with a vulnerability and feeling of empathy that truly allowed Past the Shallows to be an engaging story. Each of Clarke’s changes were physically and vocally sharp and direct, and Hodson and McLaughlin needed this same energy to help craft the main trio’s arcs.
Larnach’s writing is reflective of the style of writing of Jane Harper, with the presence of nature being a danger and a beauty at the same time becoming a motif utilised throughout. The reveals of the family secrets and overbearing masculinity of the boys’ father felt reminiscent of The Dry and made for a captivating finale.
The script itself was enhanced through Nema Adel’s AV design that provided a playful backdrop for the performers to explore the story through; the opening image of a slowly waving surface was a feast for the eyes. There were clashes between the AV and Jason James’ lighting. Both could have been developed to work hand in hand to complement each other and ultimately enhance the tumultuous elements of the story. Minimal set design and costuming by Keerthi Subramanyam added to the audience’s need to harness their imagination and required the performers to put their skills to work to lead us through each setting.
A performance that takes risks and requires a lot from its audience, Past the Shallows has captivating performances from some of its young artists. With mesmerising moments and instances of pure heartbreak, go for the intrigue of new Australian writing, stay for the contemporary story of brotherhood and let yourself be swept away.
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Director & Dramaturg Ben Winspear
Writer Julian Larnach
Based on the novel by Favel Parrett
Set & Costume Designer Keerthi Subramanyam
Sound Designer Glenn Richards
Lighting Designer Jason James
AV Designer Nema Adel
Production Manager Taryn Brown
Stage Manager Hannah Crane
Ben Jackson (Understudy)