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l-r - Ron Haddrick, Sara Cooper, Jonathan auf der Heide, Jemma Gates, Beyond the Neck l-r - Ron Haddrick, Sara Cooper, Jonathan auf der Heide, Jemma Gates, Beyond the Neck
photo Tony McKendrick
TOM HOLLOWAY WAS 17 YEARS OLD AND WORKING IN A PIZZA SHOP IN HOBART WHEN THE TRAGEDY AT PORT ARTHUR UNFOLDED IN 1996. HIS PLAY, BEYOND THE NECK, A STORY PERFORMED 10 YEARS LATER, IS HIS POWERFUL RESPONSE TO THE EVENTS OF THAT DAY.

An arc of shelving containing family memorabilia wraps around the performance space. Isolated in compartments these artifacts include a transistor, phone radio, wireless, pair of binoculars, traffic cone, model ship, horseshoe, red safety helmet, photo developer, dartboard, pair of red shoes and a model of a colourful Montgolfier balloon. Most of these embody a nostalgia for childhood and the shared times of family life. Because we are alert to the symbolic significance of many of the items, this miscellany of memory also evokes a sense of menace and foreboding.

Four strangers are seated at a table. They introduce themselves as a boy (Jonathan auf de Heide), teenage girl (Jemma Gates), young mother (Sara Cooper) and a tour guide (Ron Haddrick). They offer fragments of their story interspersed with interruption and disjuncture. Each character strategically draws on the device of a closing imperative such as “No!”, “Stop!” and “What!” These intercessions deflect a specific or difficult strand of thought that threatens to summon terror, blame or dread.

It’s Sunday. Making their separate journeys by car or coach are the boy, the teenage girl and the young mother. Inevitably someone is whingeing. The teenage girl is cramped in the back of a car with her knees jammed under her chin. She resents her mother’s intimacy with the driver, her father’s best friend. The boy is hyper-excited because his friend Michael is traveling with him—or is he? The young mother is part of a mystery bus tour with a blue-rinse mob. She turns toward the rear of the bus to ensure that her husband David and daughter Molly are present—or are they?

It is this indeterminacy of past, present and future that contributes to an inexorable build of tension. Our knowing and imaginings are already filling in the spaces. Through an interweaving of narrative and back-story, our apprehensions hover about the temporal uncertainty and the indeterminate fate of these Sunday travellers.

The Neck is a narrow strip of land a few hundred metres wide, 83 kilometres from Hobart. To cross The Neck is to be inexorably drawn to the former penal settlement of Port Arthur. This prison was modelled on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon which functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine where each prisoner was left alone in the dark without sound or name, inevitably raving into madness. We are similarly seated in the darkness of the auditorium while observing each character’s terror, grief and compassion unfold.

Waiting at Tassie’s top tourist attraction to meet his next tour group and unleash his “old fart’s bad jokes” is the tour guide (Ron Haddrick). When he welcomes us to the Visitors’ Centre our indeterminate journey begins. The impact of that day on each of the characters is gradually revealed. Again we are reminded of the cruelty of sudden absence: the boy hears his friend Michael urging him to act, the teenage girl grieves the loss of her father, the young mother recalls her terror when she is locked in the darkness of a solitary cell. Ten years later the tour guide is still fending off intrusive questions and angrily refers to the “bullshit” of ‘closure.’ “Were you there?”, the teenage girl asks the tour guide and an autumn chill slaps our necks.

Beyond the Neck was one of five plays out of 400 entries to be chosen for presentation as part of the Royal Court Theatre’s International Young Playwrights’ Festival in London. Holloway structures his play so that through fragments and overlays of story, through the fluctuation of presence and absence, four strangers find connection, solace and possible redemption.

The events at Port Arthur reverberated around the world. To echo the words carved in stone at the memorial site: “…cherish life for the sake of those who died. Cherish compassion for those who gave aid. Cherish peace for the sake of those in pain.” Holloway’s tautly crafted work offers a theatre of renewal for and of our time.


Beyond the Neck, writer Tom Holloway, director Iain Sinclair, performers Jonathon auf der Heide, Sara Cooper, Jemma Gates, Ron Haddrick, design Jamie Clennett, lighting design Daniel Zika, composer, sound designer Steve Toulmin, An Argy Bargy Production presented by Tasmania Performs; Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Sept 12-15

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 35

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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