After the success of their first show The Play About Nothing in the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Jessica Marsh and Pippa Russell are back with a new show A Fire, The Fire. This show separates and isolates audio and visual with pre-recorded dialogue and visual scenes without sound in an attempt to simulate memory during trauma. 

Paul Andrew speaks with Jessica Marsh from the playwriting duo in their busy rehearsal studio.

Jessica MarshMemory during trauma, tell me about how this work came about Jessica?
The concept? Okay there's a song by Snow Patrol called If There's a Rocket Tie Me To It.
The chorus goes like this;

A fire, a fire
You can only take what you can carry
A pulse your pulse,
It's the only thing I can remember
I break you don't
I was always set to self destruct though
The fire the fire,
It cracks and bucks like primal music.

The ideas contained by that chorus were perfect for us. The characters so clearly defined. There is a certain type of trauma you can only experience from a fire, losing everything, losing it suddenly.

I think that Snow Patrol's lyricist, Gary Lightbody sums up best when he says that this song is "set in the context of a world that's as terrifying as it is beautiful." Have you experienced this type of terror and beauty?
I have experienced such a trauma, yes, I suddenly lost everything. After the dress run of a show I directed in 2008 I received a phone call to tell me my grandfather had passed away. At the interval of a show I went to the funeral. It was such a surreal experience.

The trauma that we're trying to explore is not only the trauma of sudden loss but of long term unresolved feelings like grief, or guilt. How that in turn, affects the way people act, treat each other and view the world.

The three characters in the play all have hidden pasts. Secrets they don't want to share, secrets that rule their every action, their every thought. We use the experience of the fire to make them relive their guilt, to force them to come to terms with it. I like the idea of them being trapped in their own heads, no one else but their self can get into that world.

Tell me your thoughts about memory?
Memory is a powerful tool. The most insignificant thing can, over time, become a huge part of your life. Memory is funny like that. You can forget the major moments, or twist them to mean less, or mean more. One tiny thing could become your focus point, that be all, end all thing, but the big, defining moment of your life could mean nothing whatsoever.

I think that people use memory to make excuses for themselves, blaming their behaviour on things that happened years ago. Letting that one event be their crutch, their way to explain. As that event grows in their mind it can becomes more powerful than the event itself, I like this idea from a writer’s perspective.

Tell me about your characters?
Dean is a volatile young man. Erratic and unreliable. But he has a good heart. He loves his sister, Olivia, dearly. They are the only family that each other has.

Olivia, a strong independent. She moved to Melbourne, got a job, left her mother and her shit-head little brother behind. Dean got himself into strife and encroached on her new life. And she found herself being a mother to him once again.

Richard, on the other hand, had everything, a brother, a fiancee, a good job. Then he lost it all, he went from being a gentle caring stable individual, to an awkward misplaced shell.

The three of them live in their own versions of normality.

Life, is it always a series of ordeals?
Life is definitely a series of ordeals. Not necessarily because we are battered by fate or bad luck, but because of the emotions we invest in each event in our lives.

We make things into ordeals because it's easier to cope. People like complaining about things, having something about themselves to talk about. So they make each event bigger and add more suffering so they can tell everyone how horrific that experience was.

What theatre has inspired you of late?
A few weeks ago I saw Attic Erratic's show Christina: A story with music. It was performed in the Collingwood Underground Carpark. It was a 1 hour monologue, written like every internal monologue I've ever heard. It jumped and stuttered and re explained and refined itself as it went. It used the space magnificently, it felt like it was written for the space. I don't think enough shows think about the voice of the space. It was refreshing to see a show that thought about it.

You are an emerging playwright, tell me about your first production with Pippa?
The Play About Nothing last year for the Melbourne Comedy Festival was my first show. It was the first time I tried something different, a time that I realised that that was what I wanted to do, make contemporary theatre. We used the concept of audience participation. But not in the way that keeps the audience the audience. We blurred the boundaries of audience and actors. It was a great concept. People loved it and they were keen to participate. It was a long process, hard to think about how we could pull it off.

I'm still learning.

And the humour contained in your writing?
I think humour is an important way to connect with others. A great way to break the ice, a way to easily let others know what kind of person you are, how you think and act, an easy way to bond. It helps you to let go, to be in the moment. Without humour in the rehearsal space, on the stage, the connection is less.

A Fire, The Fire
Pippa Russell and Jessica Marsh

Venue: Gasworks Theatre, Gasworks Arts Park | Corner Graham and Pickles streets, Albert Park
Dates: 15 – 19 June, 2011
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3pm
Tickets: $21 Full /$27 Conc
Bookings: | 03 9699 3253 (+bf phone only)

WARNING: Contains nudity

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