Widely regarded as one of the classics of the Australian theatrical canon, Michael Gow’s Away takes us back to the summer of 1967 with the Vietnam War in our consciousness and a background of social upheaval without precedence. It’s a journey of joy, incredible sadness and grace.
As they leave for their summer holidays, the stories of three families entwine. At the heart are three mothers, each dealing with loss and loneliness in their own particular way. The grief-stricken Coral (Natasha Herbert) has lost her only son in Vietnam and is barely consolable. “Because she is in grief, everything is heightened for her so she sees the pain in everyone around her,” explained Herbert. It was this hub of relationships that initially sparked director Matthew Lutton’s interest in the play, said Herbert. “Their focus is on their children. One is coming of age, one is dying and one is dead”.
Drawing heavily on Shakespearean portions – it begins with a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and ends on the beach with King Lear – the play inhabits a big, sparse, minimalist space. In between is a transformative, almost psychological storm, that might evoke The Tempest or Lear again. “It is a little bit like going through a portal into an alternative space, another world,” Herbert elaborated.
Moving outside of time and taking on a ‘dream-like’ quality allows this version of Away to step outside of a literal 1967 context and find more universality of relationships, grief and loss. The parallels with today are not lost on Herbert: “It’s wondering what the future is and what we are creating. It’s that threat of things changing in a way that brings a loss of control”. (GW)
Until Mar 25, varied performance times. Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre. $61-$105. Tickets & info: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or (02) 9250 1777