Maddy. Caylee. Jaycee. Natascha. Daniel. And now Susie, a ‘Sunny Girl’ in a Poison t-shirt. It’s the summer of 1988 her sweet 16 is turning out to be anything but … With Crushed, writer Melita Rowson (Sugarbomb, Solitude in Blue) has certainly dipped her nib into an ink pot darker than most, with a tale of innocence corrupted and a most macabre high school re-union …
What drew you to the myth of the ‘lost child’? When I was at art school, I studied 19th century Australian Impressionism and was captured by this recurring image of a lost child (usually a girl) in her white colonial dress being consumed by a menacing Australian bush. The myth was born of a real fear – many pioneer children were lost to the bush, but it is a particularly Australian anxiety as the landscape was so foreign to early Australians – many who were sent here by force. I’m interested in exploring the contemporary manifestation of this myth by replacing the bush with a suburban wasteland.
What kind of nuggets did you unearth while researching Crushed? I grew up in a suburb that was traumatised by a gunman siege, the abduction of a girl from her bed and many assaults that occurred in the surrounding scrublands. ‘Stranger danger’ and ‘safety house’ were the pervasive catchphrases of my youth. I thought this was particular to my experience, but the big nugget for me was when my research uncovered a statistic that showed during the 80s, Australia had the highest rate of child abductions in the world. I wondered what that said about our culture – did we have a national death wish?
How much does the world evoked reflect your own past? I started writing for the theatre because I felt my experience of this complex and beautiful country I call home was not being portrayed on stage. The world of Crushed comes directly from my teenage years in suburbia. This is a story from my generation, (Gen X), written for my generation.
Is it difficult to bring humour into what is essentially a tragic murder mystery? Not at all. Odd, I know! I’ve focused this murder mystery around a ‘high school reunion from hell’ scenario. Most of us have experienced the torture of a high school reunion, so there’s plenty to laugh at and cringe about there. These characters are also quite cynical because of their loss; humour is all they’ve got left. My writing has often been called ‘darkly humourous.’ I find humour fuels tragedy. Besides, eighties cock rock provides such fertile ground…
Crushed is the first for The Spare Room … The New Theatre’s Spare Room program is in its second year and we’re proud to be first off the bat. The space hasn’t changed; it’s the good old New opening its doors to independent producers with vision and guts. When I write for theatre, I like to imagine the space I’m writing for, which is tough at the moment as there’s not a lot of venues willing to back female writers and new Australian work. The opportunities for women are narrowing. For awhile there, I was at a loss to imagine any space at all… If I invest years of my life into writing a play, I want my words to be heard, so programs like The Spare Room are crucial.
The title has us intrigued… Can you tell us a bit more about your next show, The Wonder from Downunder: One woman’s search for Gippsland’s Giant Worm? I stumbled across The Worm when I was researching a travel piece on kitsch tourism in Victoria. It’s a real earthworm that is only found in Gippsland – it’s the largest worm in the world! In the seventies, The Worm inspired a tourism phenomenon; a festival, a giant pink puppet, a big concrete worm… The worm saved a region from economic disaster but its success ultimately tore that region apart. Last year I took a camera to Gippsland and was invited onto farms and into homes to learn the truth behind the worm saga. Another trip is on the cards as more people have come out of the woodwork. The fruits of all this will be crafted into a one-woman corporate keynote/holiday slideshow. It’s been quite a ride!
May 16-Jun 9, New Theatre, 542 King St, Newtown, $10-30, 1300 131 188, newtheatre.org.au