Team Sepia: Emily Steel, Nescha Jelk, Matthew Gregan, Holly Myers, Rory Walker @ The Science Exchange – Thinking Space
11:00am, Tue 13 Mar 2012
So I’m sitting in TuxCat one afternoon, leeching their Wi-Fi (ostensibly to post some show reports, but more likely to check e-mail and Facebook), when I see Jane roll up. We’d only talked a few times before, but I wave hello and she sits down and we have a chat about happenings around town. She mentions that she’s Production Manager for Sepia; I say that it was on the Shortlist, but I was afraid that it had been inadvertently blocked out by other bookings. “Oh,” she offers, “we have a few school-group matinées.”
So I roll up to RiAus and talk my way into this morning session of Sepia, and wind up sitting amidst a school group of around twenty kids. We’re introduced to a Whyalla-based family of three: Neil, who owns and operates the day-to-day of the struggling caravan park, as well as running diving tours for those interested in the local sea-life. His wife, Emma, works for the mining company whose proposed expansion threatens that sea-life; their son Matt, meanwhile, works in the local steelworks.
Neil’s obsession with the environmental threat of the mining expansion – and, in particular, the impact on the local sepia apama cuttlefish population that gives the play its name – threatens to pull the family apart. The ecological impact would effectively cripple the tourism that keeps the caravan park alive; on the other hand, the lack of expansion could result in the loss of both Emma and Matt’s jobs. The opening scene revels in this conflict, and of the personal tensions between the characters: Neil is absolutely focussed on the environment, and blinkered to everything else, Emma is weary from the arguments, and Matt just wants his autonomy.
But, at the height of the conflict, the scene changes – suddenly we’re in the same physical space, a few years earlier. The caravan park is providing a good living; Emma is moving up the ranks in the company. Gaps in the family history are filled in. Another scene change, and it’s earlier still: Emma and Neil are inspecting the caravan park for the first time, with an intention to buy – there’s a sense of optimism in the air.
And then, on a high note that is tempered by the knowledge of what follows (hindsight in foresight, if you will), Sepia ends.
It must first be said that Sepia is wonderfully performed. Rory Walker has yet to disappoint in anything he’s ever done, and his portrayal of Neil is brilliant – almost crazed by obsession in one scene, wide-eyed and enthusiastic in another. Matthew Gregan’s Matt is quite wonderfully understated; though his impact is limited to the first two scenes, the manner in which he drives emotions is quite brilliantly done, and the age difference between is really well managed. Holly Myers, though, is the real gem: her first-act Emma is hardened, worn-down, weary; the contrast to third-act Emma is remarkable, as she skips through the caravan park office as light as a feather, easily conveying the sense of a barely-controlled impulsive young woman. Just gorgeous!
But, whilst Sepia is a warm multi-levelled story (props to Emily Steel, responsible for last year’s Rocket Town), well told (props to Nescha Jelk), I’m not sure the reverse chronological storytelling over three acts worked for me. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful way of filling in the gaps, and is a marvellous example of respecting the audience’s ability to put things together themselves; but, on the other hand, it means that the “denouement” is really quite strange – bittersweet, even – and anticlimactic.
Still, I’m really thankful that I got to see Sepia – thanks again, Jane :)