Kate Mulvany’s The Seed initially opened last year as part of the Belvoir St Theatre’s 2007 B Sharp Season, taking residence at the Downstairs Theatre. The play, which was awarded the Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award commission, wowed audiences so much so that its run not only extended into the following year’s programme, but was also upgraded into the much larger main stage upstairs; a significant achievement for the 28-year-old playwright and actress from Geraldton, Western Australia.
The play, which is said to be semi-autobiographical, revolves around three generations of the Maloney family. Rose Maloney (played by Mulvany) is a 30-year-old Australian journalist who has traveled to Nottingham, England, with her English, Vietnam veteran father, Danny (Danny Adcock) to meet her Irish grandfather, Brian (Martin Vaughan), for the first time in her life. It is Brian’s 80th birthday and it’s a tense reunion as Brian and Danny have become estranged since Danny left England to escape from the pressures of his overbearing IRA supporter and staunch Catholic father. Apart from the fact that Pakistanis now run the corner shop, nothing much else has changed. Brian is still set in his ways; throwing whisky down his throat, swearing like a true clichéd Irishman, and blaming Danny for the family failings. Rose, who has never been let in on any of the family politics and history, is eager to learn about her father’s secretive past. Like an eager Nancy Drew, she thrusts a dictaphone in her father’s face as soon as they arrive at Heathrow so she can document every moment. Rose’s thirst for knowledge stems from her own fair share of misfortunes. Being born with cancer meant that she spent two of her infant years in hospital undergoing radiation which has tragically led to her infertility. Rose’s fiancé has left her, she has also quit her job and her kleptomania is getting out of control. As Rose desperately tries to fill the painful void with some sense of her identity, she discovers that she, her father, and grandfather all share far more than blood; much more than what a mere genetic seed has passed down. The infection has literally been passed from one generation to the next, leading to the physical and emotional scarring of all three individuals. Most disastrous of all, is that the seed now stops here.
The structure of The Seed is carefully crafted from beginning to end. Mulvany in fact had to go back to the drawing board having lost a draft of the play when her laptop went missing. Perhaps this was a blessing as the script is remarkably tight. The first half is predominantly humourous, allowing us to become closer to each of the characters, while the second deals with the painful reality rumbling beneath the surface. The comic aspect of the script derives from the family’s idiosyncrasies as well as the cultural gaps between Rose and Danny’s Australian roots, and Brian’s conservative Anglo-Irish heritage; all of which a modern audience can easily relate to. We laugh at Brian’s bigotry and chauvinism because it’s so outrageous, but also because most of us have encountered ‘Brians’ in our own lives. The laughter loosens us to such an extent that by the time we return for the second half, we are in for a dramatic fall as we learn the disturbing truth.
Performances on the whole in this play are exemplary. Mulvany said she wrote the part of Danny with Danny Adcock in mind, and also couldn’t be happier to have the role of Brian given to her former Mr Bailey’s Minder co-star, Martin Vaughan. The dynamics between the trio are authentic, particularly in the first half when it feels like we’ve embarrassingly walked in on a genuine Maloney family reunion as they hurl insults at each other.
The powerful monologues allow each of the actors to shine. Mulvany’s nostalgic flashbacks about Rose crayfishing with Danny are especially moving. The language paints a vivid picture of father and daughter bonding on an early morning; the vibrant orange crayfish against the green water, the whipping wind, the taste of sea salt and the gooey Mars bar that Rose devours. It’s a clever way to succinctly evoke Rose’s experience of her father’s sickness without over-labouring and risking melodrama; what would have indeed been one of the challenges directors, Iain Sinclair and Neil Armfield, would have had to face. With the actors carefully pacing themselves building up to their respective emotional climaxes, the play avoids that dangerous territory. Thanks must also be given to Mulvany’s generally understated script.
Set designer Micka Agosta cleverly condenses the stage to a small elevated area where he creates Brian’s dark and mothballed apartment where “the windows stay closed”, the furniture comprises old sixties-style relics, and boxes full of secret exports stacked high. With the exception of one or two scenes, the whole play unfolds on this platform giving the illusion that the whole theatre is in fact much smaller. This claustrophobia heightens the explosive power inherent in the drama.
The Seed, while alluding to the disastrous effects of war including chemical poisoning and psychological trauma, is more an insight into family relations and the way in which we impact each other. Mulvany has no doubt drawn from her own family history with her father being a Vietnam veteran, and as a result, her being born with cancer. She has clearly learnt well from her mentors; write what you know, and that she has done, and so beautifully well. Under the careful direction of Sinclair and Armfield, this is first-class drama, which deserves its second run.
Company B presents
by Kate Mulvany
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 21 February – 30 March, 2008
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Tickets: Full $54. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) and Groups 10+ $45. Concession $33.
Student Rush $25 for Tuesday 6.30pm, available from 10am on the day (subject to availability)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au