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This article first appeared in Limelight's October 2016 issue, ahead of Lady Eats Apple's premiere at the 2016 Melbourne Festival
Entering the auditorium for Lady Eats Apple, the latest work from Back to Back Theatre, audiences will find themselves in an unexpected environment. The production takes place in Hamer Hall at the Arts Centre Melbourne – but not as we know it. “You won’t recognise Hamer Hall because it’s been so changed,” says the Company’s Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin.
Established in 1987, the Geelong-based company creates new forms of contemporary theatre with an ensemble of actors with disabilities. Their excitingly ambitious work includes the internationally acclaimed, award-winning (and controversial) Ganesh Versus the Third Reich.
Lady Eats Apple, which premieres this month at the Melbourne Festival, is their largest-scale production to date in terms of its staging. Hamer Hall has a seating capacity of over 2,400 but Lady Eats Apple will play to just 250. “The audience are on stage and there are two very large inflatables, which fill and reconfigure the space, so it’s like a space within a space,” says Gladwin. “I’ve always been quite conscious that if you do a play on a [traditional] stage, audiences are reminded of the western canon of works that they’ve seen in that particular venue. Our interest is to really shift that and convert it to our needs to try and create a new relationship between the actor and the space. At the same time, it’s creating a new relationship between the audience and the architectural structure.”
Lady Eats Apple unfolds over three acts. The first draws on the Book of Genesis, with its story of the creation and Adam and Eve. “At the point where the man and woman are expelled from the Garden of Eden and cast into the wilderness, there’s a sense that the audience are in the position of the man and woman and also lost. And the design – without giving too much away – is a critical aspect in them being lost within Hamer Hall,” says Gladwin.
The second act moves through time and the third takes place in contemporary Australia. “The story picks up with a cleaning crew cleaning the theatre. They’ve got vacuum packs on their back so it’s kind of hyper-realism in the way it uses the space. The audience have the perspective of being on stage and looking into the auditorium and we get involved in a power struggle between a group of cleaners and their manager,” says Gladwin.
“In some ways it bookends the Adam and Eve references. I guess one of the things we are interested in is power and who has the right to say what someone else can do. I think it’s a rich piece and quite complex but we won’t really know what it is until the audience is there. The audience is quite a critical element to it, even to the point that the audience will be sitting on inflatables and until we’ve got 250 people sitting there we’re not sure how the inflatables will behave due to the body heat so it’s going to be quite a magical first performance.”
Lady Eats Apple plays at Carriageworks, Sydney March 16 – 18