7th Floor presents Sprout, a timely piece set in a post-apocalyptic, environmentally ravaged Australia of the future. Australian Stage’s Heather Bloom chats with designer Cortnee Jarvis and cast members Lucy Lovegrove and Alex Duncan about the show that offers a warning of the irreversible damage climate change could have on life, society, and humanity as we know it.
Tell me about the show
Alex: It’s a post-apocalyptic show set in Australia 90 years in the future. It’s hot, it’s windy and I play John, one of the rule makers of this world. John is married to Nicole (Lucy Lovegrove), who is pregnant, and he sees this pregnancy as proof that humanity will continue. But, for that to happen he needs to keep Nicole safe, so he makes all these rules for her, not allowing her outside etc. I think (playwright) Jessica Bellamy was grappling with the question of “should I have children in the future?” So, it’s set in a place of what it means to have a child.
Lucy: It’s a secret, possibly illegal pregnancy as we all live in little communities and there are strict rules.
With Climate change is the media all the time (at the time of writing the COP26 summit in Glasgow is currently underway) do you see this play as a warning sign, or do you think it’s already happened and it’s too late?
Cortnee: I think it’s a warning sign. This play is a more realistic representation of that future. A lot of the other portrayals we see in the media are very sci fi, Mad Max-esque. I’ve tried to make the costumes more realistic and focus on reusability of items and re-purposing. I think that it is very much a comment on the fact we must take care of what we’ve got because otherwise we’re not going to have it for much longer.
Lucy: There’s a beautiful poem in the play that comments on that called “Sunlight in the garden” which is essentially saying, nothing will last so appreciate it while you have it.
Cortnee: You’ve got this character in the play that’s mostly in the shadows and you hear him more than see him and I feel he’s one of the only people left in this world that has true memories and experiences of real plant life and animals before the water disappeared, the plants disappeared and then the animals disappeared, leaving nothing but dust, dirt, and sand.
His memories of these sounds show the progression of how information is transferred. First, to John and Nicole who have a first-hand retelling and then to Emily (Catherine Ward) a 16-year-old who mispronounces the animals’ names and makes the wrong sounds as she has only ever been given second to third hand information and it’s been lost in translation along the way. Which I guess is also a bit telling of history and what happens over time, information gets passed down in a giant game of telephone and in the end, it becomes something that it’s not.
Alex: Except, instead of a telephone we have a radio and that’s where we listen to the Weatherman (Hayden Burke) who tells us his memories, and that’s our favourite time of the day.
So, the Weatherman tells memories, he doesn’t tell the weather?
Lucy: He might incorporate the weather, but it’s not like “showers are forecast this weekend”, it’s more that he will incorporate what he’s seeing from his vantage point into the poetry he’s telling us. Possibly an approaching dust storm, or dark clouds on the horizon.
Alex: What John sees the weatherman’s job is to remind us of the old world, he reads poems from Emily Dickinson and imparts his knowledge, so we remember that history.
Lucy: So instead of a traditional weatherman which is a forecaster, or future looking, he remembers and passes on his history and stories, which is what Nicole lives for because she misses those elements of life. John gets frustrated by that and thinks the job of the weatherman is to look forward and be a beacon. It’s a beautiful traditional forward-looking role that has been pivoted backwards.
Is it that there is perhaps, no forwards?
Alex: John would disagree. I think it’s important to note that this is not just a play about the end of the world. From my character’s point of view, he is trying to find hope. I think both sets of characters are finding a way to be hopeful and, in a way, come together. I think hope and humanity is an integral part of being human so all the characters make the choice to continue while they can.
Lucy: And that looks different for each of them, for John it’s about language and physical evidence like the baby. For Nicole, it’s planting and stealing seeds from the village green and sprouting them, creating more plants, and greening the spaces.
Cortnee: John’s for the future, Nicole is for the present and Emily is very pessimistic, perhaps very angry at a world she doesn’t remember and feels was taken from her.
Lucy: Which is very representative of the youth protesting climate change currently.
Corntee: I think so, it’s a world that should have been for her and she has been denied it. So now she spends all her time outside trying to explore and find a place for herself.
Alex: What’s clever about the play is that the two stories almost mirror each other in their approaches to hope.
Lucy: It’s like an echo of each other, the two relationships are beautifully cyclical.
There’s hope in the darkness?
Alex: Yes, there is hope, but not in a Disney way, it’s true hope and you must fight for hope and fight the people that say there is no hope and prove them wrong.
What has been your favourite part about working on the show?
Cortnee: I got to deep dive into the characters of the play and find moments where I could consider how they could be best represented. It was a good time, I got to have the opportunity to really grime and dirty things up. Previously I’ve worked on things that have been very era based, it’s clean and it’s got its style. This has a lot more freedom and I got to be a bit more flexible.
Lucy: And we all smell amazing!
Cortnee: I used lots of coffee and paprika for the dirt and dust so was able to really get in there and lather those spices.
Lucy: It’s also good to note, it’s a buy nothing new production.
Cortnee: We’ve received a lot of donations and done a lot of op shopping. We haven’t bought anything new. The idea of repurposing things was the main goal as it’s a large part of the message of the play.
Lucy: I haven’t done much theatre, so I’ve loved getting into the language after doing mostly screen work in the past. I’ve loved how many layers there are in the text and having the time to delve into them. It’s just been magical and I’m loving to be collaborating with new people and feeling that ensemble strength.
Alex: My favourite thing is doing a play after the pandemic, and that this is such a piece of theatre. Amazing costumes, but basically four actors in a space with a rock, and it’s our job to paint this world as the characters paint their world.
Lucy: Also, there is an amazing soundtrack created by Josh (Josh Mitchell) of original music, the soundscape is simply beautiful.
7th Floor presents
by Jessica Bellamy
Venue: The Williams Hall | 220 Macpherson Street, Princes Hill VIC
Dates: 17 – 27 November 2021