The action in The Golden Age takes place between 1939 and 1945 in a variety of settings including the Tasmanian bush, an upper-class garden, a hospital, and Berlin in the final days of the war. There are 18 characters, who wear more than 40 costumes during the play.
We talked to set and costume designer David Fleischer about how he has approached this exciting, complex production.
LIVING IN ISOLATION
“The story of The Golden Age is centred around the discovery of a group of Australians who were lost in the Tasmanian wilderness at the time of the gold rush in the 1850s. At the point when we first meet them, it’s 1939, so they have lived for several generations in seclusion. From that complete isolation from the rest of the world, they have begun to create their own unique culture.”
COSTUMES FOR A LOST GROUP
“In terms of the costume designs for this lost group, we are exploring how the 1850s clothing they would have had to begin with might have been transformed through 90-odd years without outside influences or the ability to gather much in the way of new materials.
Their costumes are recycled assemblages of period clothing. The way I think about it is that these characters are wearing clothes that don’t strictly belong to them. For example, a jacket worn by someone actually belonged to their father or someone else who happened to be part of the first generation of the group.
As a designer, I’m balancing what feels right for a certain character – the way in which their personality is expressed through their clothing – with the limitations imposed by this necessity for recycling their forebears’ clothes. The costumes reflect what they had at hand as much as who they are.”
A PERIOD EPIC
“The costume design is staying very true to the era of the text. The piece is a period epic. In the set, we’ve stripped things back to their most elemental – earth, water, fire – in order to give ourselves the room to find the play’s mythic qualities.
The foundation of the set is the earth that we’re putting underneath the feet of the performers. The piece is an allegory in so many ways – an allegory of dispossession for one. And, while it’s not necessarily a story about land, having the texture of earth as a strong, singular theatrical gesture gives this epic story the weight it deserves. It’s a delicate play with great depth and complexity and, in many ways, this distillation is the best way to allow that complexity to be illuminated.”
“Sarah Peirse is playing Ayre, referred to as Queenie Ayre. She’s the group’s link to its ancestors. She’s the keeper of their mythology – in many ways the prime representation of the culture they have created. Her costume is an 1850s day dress that has been put through years of wear and love and damage, but at the same time has maintained a visual weight that matches her status and how much she means to the group.”
The Golden Age, 14 Jan - 20 Feb 2016, Wharf 1 Theatre
Production photography by Lisa Tomasetti