Belated review with Liz Newell

Blue Room Theatre’s April-July season takes a gritty turn this week with Belated, a tale of friendship and forgiveness and the lengths we’ll go to for the people we love. Tickets to Members’ Night and Opening Night are sold out but you can still nab tickets for Friday and Saturday this week. The season runs until Saturday 28 May.

We caught up with Writer/Producer Liz Newell to find out what it was all about:

The Australia Times (TAT): I see this is Maiden Voyage’s ‘maiden voyage’ itself, how did you come to be involved with this project?

Liz Newell (LN): I founded MVTC earlier this year in response to the lack of gender parity in the Australian theatre industry. Maiden Voyage exists to champion gender parity and put new plays on stage. It’s just about being mindful in the shows we produce, and about recognising that presently, roles for women on and off stage are always as substantial – or even as common – as those available to men.

TAT:  How important is gender equality in the theatre scene?

LN:  Extremely. Gender parity is just a slightly fancier way of saying “equality” outright. I can’t see why anyone would actively want to prevent equality of any kind, not just that between genders. But aside from that, theatre is supposed to be for everyone. But theatre where women don’t find a foothold and men dominate the stage isn’t really theatre for everyone, is it?

TAT:  It’s also your debut as a playwright, how long have you been writing for?

LN:  I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but only ventured into writing for theatre a couple of years ago.

TAT:  How did Belated come about? What was your motivation for writing it?

LN:  Belated started out as a story about a group of 20-somethings trying to find their place in the world, and for the most part, it is still about that. I’m interested in the growing people do once they’re in their 20s, when they’re supposed to have hit adulthood, whatever that is, but sometimes it can feel like growing up is an ongoing process. Sometimes we wonder if we’re ever going to be the people we’re meant to be, or if we’re already stuck being one thing from hereon out. Belated is about realising you’re not perfect and trying, in your own strange way, to be better.

TAT:  What does Belated say about women in today’s society? How is Maiden Voyage’s message of gender equality apparent throughout the play?

LN:  That’s an interesting question. I hope Belated simply shows that young women can be many things all at once, instead of being reduced to one or two identifiers. In Blythe’s case, it would be easy to pigeonhole her as the angry lesbian, and Norah might come across as the highly-strung princess at first. By the play’s end, we see that the two contain multitudes, that they are more than their first impressions, or even their second or third. People can surprise you. Sometimes those surprises are even the good kind.

TAT:  How important is the balance between friendship and individuality? It seems that Belated really pushes the boundaries of friendship through close living conditions, is that so?

LN:  Every friendship is different, but that balance can be difficult to strike. Blythe and Max have been friends for so long, it’s less a case of losing individuality and more a case of not knowing who they are without the other one around to remind them. It’s a rare kind of bond and one not everyone will be fortunate enough to actually experience in their lifetime. Belated does explore the boundaries of friendship, but not so much through close living quarters. It’s more about asking how far you’d go for your friends, how deep down the rabbit hole you’d let yourself fall if you felt the alternative would be too much for either of you.

TAT: Do you associate with any of the characters? If so, why?

LN:  To some degree, I associate with all of them. They did all come out of my head, after all. Some are based more on people I know than on myself. I relate to Blythe, Max and Norah in equal measure for different reasons. I swear almost as much as Blythe and find myself stuck in the middle of conflict, trying to be Switzerland, almost as often as Max.

TAT: I understand that Maiden Voyage is about more than just bridging the gender divide in the arts, it’s also about quality writing and producing great stories, with that in mind, how important is the Australian identity in the works you seek to promote?

LN: Personally I prioritise ‘good’ stories over anything else. What defines ‘good’ changes day to day for me, but generally involves characters with depth and a distinct arc from beginning to middle to end. The Australian identity is an interesting idea and such a tricky topic, but not something I intentionally seek out in the work I produce. More often than not, though, it is in the work I write, if only hovering in the background, I suppose. Some of my favourite stories – not just those on the stage – have been distinctly Australian. Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet is one of my all-time favourite books.

TAT: What has your collaboration with the Blue Room Theatre been like?

LN: Amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place for our first production. It’s an immense credit to The Blue Room Theatre’s programming model (and its wonderful team) that a new company like MVTC can put on a new show within such a supportive, nurturing environment. It enables you to take risks and make the most out of the time you have in the theatre.

TAT: What’s next for yourself and Maiden Voyage?

LN: I’m going to start writing something new pretty soon. I’ll also start work on Maiden Voyage’s next show, which will hopefully find a stage to call home sometime next year. Other than that, we’ll be working to spread the word about the company and its aims in general and continue building an audience by raising awareness. It’s all fun and games.

When: 10th – 28th May 2016 (7pm)
Where: Blue Room Theatre, PERTH
Tickets: $18 – $28
Info: Suitable 15+; Wheelchair accessible; Q&A after Wednesday 18th May’s performance