THE IRRESISTIBLE Wrestling with the intangible

“I didn’t realise that person lived in me, but there they are.” Writer and lead performer Adriane Daff sheds some light on PICA’s intriguing new production The Irresistible. The play is the combined effort of Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt and has been described as a “deeply unsettling theatrical experience” playing at PICA from the June 14 to June 24. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke with Adriane Daff about how the acclaimed production team managed to channel tools like voice modulation, responsive musical composition and character improvisation to tackle intangible themes like prejudice and the subconscious on stage. As Daff says so herself “it’s a wild ride” – and not one to be missed.

You are both a writer and a performer in this production. When you were writing this did you have your character in mind and develop them in a way that played to your strengths in that role, or do you prefer to separate the two disciplines?

One of the great things about working with Zoe Pepper (Director, Writer) and Tim Watts (Lead Performer) in this production is that it’s been really organic so there’s a lot of improvisation and everything’s really generated on the floor rather than sitting in front of a computer. There’s a lot of trial and error and free form improvisation that can go for 30 or 40 minutes and within that we discovered characters and it’s quite simply a matter of  “oh, that person’s interesting. Let’s tease them out and give them a name and a situation and see if they fit within the fabric of the play.” Sometimes you really surprise yourself and feel like “wow I didn’t realise that person lived in me, but there they are.” There is a beauty in bringing these things out in improvisation where you’re not really monitoring what’s coming out of your mouth, you’re just jamming you know? To put it in a musical sense (laughs). That’s where the most interesting stuff comes from and a way in which Zoe, Tim and I have worked before – just tapping into that place where you’re not really sure what you’re doing.

The production has been described as a ‘deeply unsettling theatrical experience’. What kind of methods do you use to create that effect, and more interestingly why?

We really wanted to demonstrate the big gap between what people think they are and the person you are that you’re not aware of. When all those little things about you are revealed – that’s where the unsettling part comes in. You might start feeling “I didn’t realise I was a little bit sexist, or a little bit this or a little bit that.” But we do live in a society where some people are placed above others. This came from wanting to expose that within people because it’s not within some people it’s completely immanent and universal. And the way that we have theatrically supported that is through the imagery. We work with a lot of smoke, effects that modulates our voices and characters with really distinct voices. We flick through those without any concrete start or ending in a way that flows and asks the audience just to go with us on this wild ride.

So a major theme or component of the play is the idea of the subconscious. How do you go about representing something so intangible in a physical sense?

To be honest that’s the part that has been a big experiment for us and really marks a departure from what we’ve done before. I suppose it was a space in which we felt quite safe having worked together for ten years or more. The hard thing about making this show in representing something intangible is that you don’t know what you don’t know. You can’t see things about yourself that you can’t see. There were moments where we were working on an element of the story and we would recognise vices even in ourselves, even as the people making the show. 

An example from Zoe is when I was playing a woman and Tim was playing a man and we were in a relationship and I was speaking to him and Zoe was like “I’m zoning out a bit with what Adriane is saying…I’ll just drop her pitch”, and so when she dropped my pitch so I sounded more like a man she felt like “Adriane is actually being really reasonable and Tim is the one being unreasonable in this”. It wasn’t until she dropped my pitch she asked herself “why do I take it more seriously when it comes from a voice that sounds male? What does that say about me?” We as artists are in no way trying to say that we’re above this or we’re cured of it. This show is more just about unearthing it.

You’ve talked about the importance of the sound production in the performance, but how about Ash Gibson Greig’s involvement as a composer. What does that add to the production?

As with all of our creations it’s amazing to have a dedicated person in the room completely a part of the collaborative process writing music that’s in direct response to what were putting up on the floor. He’s incredible with the speed in which he works and how reactive he is to this ever changing beast because that’s what this show is. We’re putting this up in front of people tonight but we’re still changing things right now. It’s a certain kind of artist that says “hell yeah sign me up for that” because most would be like “are you crazy, no way I need to have all of that locked in before we even get in to tech week”. It’s an incredible asset that brings a whole other dimension to the work. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ash a couple of times before and I can even hear a track now from a  show he composed that I did with him ten years ago which just takes me right back to that moment. It helps when you’re performing such a big score that runs all the way through because it really helps your acting and get you from moment to moment.

There’s a lot to unpack in all this clearly. You’ve already described so many big and challenging ideas making up this production and the immense talent coming together in its creation. What do you feel is the overall aim you’re trying to achieve? What would you like the audience to take from it after experiencing the show?

I think you’ve touched on a really interesting point. There are a lot of ideas here but at the end of the day we’re out to make a piece of entertainment. It’s still a funny show that looks at relationships  and how we as people interact with one another. The idea was like a jumping off point. I’d want people to come away from this feeling that they go back out into the world and look at how they deal with people through a slightly different lense. That they feel that something has awakened in them and leave the theatre with a slightly different awareness. But if people don’t and just felt the show was a bit of fun then that’s quite alright by me as well.

The Irresistible is showing from Thursday June 15 to Saturday June 24. For more information and tickets head to pica.org.au

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