Where did the first seed for The Children come from?
I had been trying to find a form for a long time to write about climate change in a way that was emotionally rather than intellectually driven. What is important and theatrical to me is not the facts of climate change – we all know the facts now, and most of the average theatre audience will believe in them too. What is interesting is this: if we know the facts, why are we failing so catastrophically to change our behaviours?
Well, for one thing, it’s because those changes are enormous and frightening and demand that we give up things we have all come to feel we are entitled to. The scale of such a change can only feel like a death of sorts, and as Hazel says, who would consciously want to move towards their own death?
I wanted to write something that didn’t harangue or nag an audience, but was generous, honest and unsentimental about how difficult it will be to make the changes that we need to, about how overwhelming that might feel – an awakening perhaps, but a terrifying one. The idea you can do nothing because the disaster is already too large is an infantilising one (one of the many reasons for the title), and the play is about three people growing up into active agents. And of course the way in which they do that was very much inspired by what happened at Fukushima. When I heard about the heroism of the retired work-force returning to the plant to help with the clean up, lots of different and long gestating ideas started to finally come together for me.
Sexual politics and the power of sex are central to this narrative. Can you tell us about this as a narrative choice?
An answer of two halves:
1) The play is an attempt to look at a crisis of desire on a political level – Hazel’s line, "I don’t know how to want less", is perhaps the most crucial line in the play. Capitalism depends on growth. Our entire economic system depends on us wanting more and more, on boundless desire – and if we continue to pursue those desires they will destroy us. And I wanted this ache of desires that couldn’t be fulfilled, or which in being fulfilled would simply cause more pain, and no satisfaction, to pulse between the characters too. So that’s what’s burning in Rose, this irresolvable desire. And we watch her battle and to some extent subdue it.
2) In some sense it wasn’t a choice at all, the moment I started writing, and I knew Rose had been hit in the face, it was clear to me that Rose was in Hazel’s territory and that she had been in her territory before. Often writing is intuitive not conscious. Those women told me sex was important to them through bloody noses and passive aggression.
You’ve woven politics into many of your works, do you set out to create theatre that challenges its audience, or does this happen organically?
To write a play takes a long time. This means that whatever I choose to write about has to sustain my interest for at least a couple of years, sometimes much longer. So, I find myself drawn to writing about things where the roots of the emotions and ideas go deep and the branches go high. This isn’t consciously political, it’s just about what holds me.
Hopefully, if something can hold me for three years it will hold an audience for two hours. And I do believe that most theatre is an inherently political act because it demands we step outside of ourselves and imagine others. And it demands that we do that communally.
The Children, 29 Mar – 19 May 2018, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
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