Past The Shallows ★★★★

Written by Julian Larnach, based on the novel by Favel Parrett. Australian Theatre for Young People / Archipelago Productions, Sydney. 12 Oct – 9 Nov, 2022.

Past The Shallows plays like an ever-shifting dream, as three actors take on multiple roles to tell the story of a broken Tasmanian family. The narrative is like the wild fishing waters, if you fight it you’ll be lost, but if you let the current take you, the play opens itself up.

Harry and Miles are two young boys living an isolated life with their father, an abalone diver, on the south coast of Tasmania. The family is living hand-to-mouth, struggling against the commercial trawlers and their dad’s alcoholism. Their older brother, Tom, has turned 19 and taken the first chance he has to get out, leaving the two younger boys to try to band together against an abusive father.

It takes a moment to settle in, as the trio of young performers (Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson and Griffin McLaughlin) switch roles with a quick change of tone and physicality, sometimes even playing the same character at the same time. It gives Past The Shallows a dream-like flow, like a memory being constructed and reconstructed in front of you. Together the trio play the three brothers, their father, his workmate, a local outcast named Bill and even a dog named Rusty. It’s the kind of theatrical conceit that could go very, very wrong, but in the hands of director Ben Winspear, it is crystal clear. 

Adding to the dream-like environment are the large projections of sky and sea by Nema Adel that fill the stage, and soundscape by Glenn Richards that manage to make the open stage of the Rebel Theatre into a raging sea and a claustrophobic house.

Playwright Julian Larnach has taken Favel Parrett’s novel and distilled it down to a piece of intense, spoken-word poetry – I was taken aback by the palpable sense of danger I felt, the menace of a violent father, the unpredictability of the sea.

The success of Past The Shallows comes from the alchemy on stage – each of the three performers carry the narrative like a relay race, passing it between them as it builds and builds. No one drops the baton. At a brisk 75 minutes, it’s an all-enveloping watch. 







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