A play set in the summer of 1967-68 about three families going and holiday and brought together by a storm, Away was written in 1986 by Australian playwright Michael Gow, whose other credits include On Top Of The World and 1841. In the following, the characterisation, world of the play, and elements of production such as the set and lighting will be explored, and suggestions given as to how the play should be performed.
THE WORLD OF THE PLAY
As stated previously, Away is set in the summer of 1967-68, and this was a very turbulent time for Australia as a nation. Forty per cent of the Australian people were aged below twenty-one, more than eight thousand had been sent to fight in the Vietnam War (As a comparison, this is more than three times the amount of troops Australia sent to fight in the recent Iraqi conflict), and young citizens were becoming more politically aware and active than ever before. The play explores this turmoil, change and upheaval, such as through the characters of Roy and Coral, who have lost a son in Vietnam.
The character of Tom has a deadly illness, which his parents, Harry and Vic, know about but are keeping news of it from him. Tom, however, has found out about his illness, and should be portrayed as purposeful, trying to get as much done before his death. But around his parents, he should not portray this purpose as openly, as to avoid them finding out that he knows about his illness. His father, Harry, tries to grieve without showing it to Tom or being sad too much, as evidenced by the following statement: “We have this boy and we won’t have him for long. And whatever he does, that will have to be enough. The Chinese don’t believe in being too upset when someone dies. That would mean you thought they’d died too soon and what they’d done up till them didn’t amount to much” (Act four, scene one). In regards to other characters, Gwen is the stereotypical nagging and arrogant wife and mother who looks down on those who are supposedly beneath her, and inside, she is paranoid of ever having less than she currently has, and thus should be portrayed as such. Coral initially should be portrayed as distant and depressed, but, as the play goes on and she comes to some realisations, she should open up more and gain knowledge and insight.
Tom, because of his youth, and to portray his apparent obliviousness to his illness, should wear colourful clothing of a Hawaiian style, and should be either barefoot or wearing sandals or jandals. Gwen should wear clothing that, although it looks more upper class, was really brought at a cheaper price, and Vic should wear simple, plain clothing. Coral should wear long, flowing dresses, and, when she disguises herself, she should wear big, dark sunglasses, and a large hat, to hide her normal appearance.
Away starts with a school performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the stage should be empty of props at this point. When Tom and his family, Meg and her family, and Roy and Coral are preparing to go away on holiday, a few props should be added, such as a table, a few chairs, and, at the far edge on one side of the stage, a wall with a door and window in it (during the previous and following scenes, to avoid a difficult set change, the wall could be simply hidden by a curtain). This is to portray the suburban location of the scenes. The remainder of the play should be performed with a set that basically appears to be a beach, but creative lighting could make it look like a floor in the hotel scenes. In some scenes, appropriate props should be used, such as hotel items in the hotel scene (i.e. chairs, pot plants, etc).
Due to the nature of the set, some creative lighting may need to be employed; for example, in the hotel scene, the lighting should focus on the characters and as little cast on the floor as possible to try to avoid showing the beach set and making the hotel look like it has a beach for a floor. During the thunderstorm, the lighting should be very dim, only as much as is necessary to allow the audience to adequately see the actors and for the actors to see enough, with sudden bright flickers of light to represent lightning. In Act four, Scene three, a bonfire is lit offstage, and so a bright red glow should be seen coming from offstage, and other lighting directions can be found in the script, such as at the end of Act five, Scene one: “The light becomes bright, summery, morning.” Generally, the lighting should be bright and clear, to signify summer and the beach location.
Often the script mentions music by the composer Mendelssohn, and so these directions should be followed and the appropriate music used. During the storm, appropriate sound effects, such as that of pouring rain and thunder cracks, should be used, and, in the hotel scenes, the sounds of a large group of people should be employed. During outdoor scenes when the weather is calmer, the whistling of birds, chirping of crickets, and similar noises should be employed, and, in the bonfire scene, a crackling of flames should be heard. Some sound directions can be found in the script, and these should be followed.
To conclude, there are many elements that make up the play Away. Set during a turbulent time in Australia’s history, the play mainly uses a beach scene, with lighting and sound used to convey realism in scenes such as the bonfire and storm scenes. The costuming should add to the characterisation, and all the elements, if brought together correctly, should make the play an enjoyable and entertaining one for the viewer.