Michael Gow’s iconic Australian work, Away, is set to o open at Theatre Works early next month. Clever, funny yet deeply moving, Away has become one of the most widely produced Australian plays of all time. Set in the Australian summer of 1967-1968 the play commences with a school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Shakespearean themes of suffering and reconciliation persist as three families on separate holidays are united during a fierce storm.
For Iopu Auva’a, who plays Harry in the play, the decision to become involved in the project was one of family.
“Michael Gow is such an amazing writer. There’s a very strong sense of family within this story that he’s written,” says Auva’a. “You experience it in every aspect of a dysfunctional and functional way. I think there’s something very intriguing about having a lens into different families’ lives, side by side. Being able to delve into the whys of their stories was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Auva’a’s character is an immigrant who has moved over from Britain with his wife Vic and son Tom, who has a terminal illness. Despite knowing their son’s fate, Harry and Vic put on a happy façade and choose to not share Tom’s illness with him, although he already knows anyway but doesn’t tell his parents. Gow gives Harry the perspective of trying to make the most with what you have in life, in this instance, through the relationship and time he has left with his son.
Auva’a says that he identifies with Harry’s love for his family.
“Everything he does is with the intention of having a better life. He is acutely aware of the way he and his wife treat their son; as if nothing is wrong, while they attempt to maintain a positive mindset. I commend his resilience in regard to his son’s illness and the appreciation of the life they live, especially migrating to Australia after the war back home.”
With its themes of reconciliation and loss, Away has long been on the literature or theatre studies curriculum book list and this year is no different. (Theatre Works has a strong and dedicated focus on producing and programming works that cater to youth and secondary school students.)
Auva’a feels that these themes of reconciliation, resolution, healing, and redemption will resonate with today’s audiences regarding our own lives and how we navigate our way through them.
Another important theme is class difference, which, Auva’a says is evident with the juxtaposition of the three different families living within their means but wanting the same result in quality of life.
“This is reflected in today’s topic of conversation with the cost of living constantly rising. We live in a society of wanting similar experiences, yet not all are able to afford this.”
This ambitious and dynamic season of Away is being created by the team behind MEDEA: Out of the Mouths of Babes with Direction by Award-Winning Steven Mitchell Wright, Lighting Design by Ben Hughes and Sound and Composition by Green Room Award Winner Rachael Lewindon (The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven). This intergenerational two-hour showstopper channels the Golden MGM days of old and will include dance numbers, colour, fashion, wonderfully kitsch Australiana, and spectacle. It aims to be a visual feast for the audience.
“We have gone for grand scale in every sense of the word,” says Auva’a. “The show features song and dance, an elaborate set, and a wonderful chorus of emerging actors from COLLARTS completing our ensemble. There is no minimalism, which is very fun to work with on a play like this. All your senses will be treated to a plethora of visual and audio explosiveness.”
Speaking about Steven Mitchell’s rehearsal room, Auva’a says that at the beginning and end of every rehearsal there is a check-in and check-out with everyone in the space. “At some point, every person – cast or crew – has mentioned how excited they are coming into rehearsals and feeling as if they are not afraid to make a fool of themselves in front of each other,” he says. “I believe that is a testament to the safe space Steven has created, which makes the collaboration of theatre making that much more special. I’ve enjoyed coming in and connecting with everyone as if we’ve collaborated for months. You don’t experience that in every rehearsal room, so it’s been very special walking into that space.”
A true masterpiece of Australian writing, Away explores how Aussies, while living in a tropical paradise, endure all storms with love, laughter, and determination. “I think this story is driven by love,” says Auva’a. “The characters go about it differently, but I believe they all want to give love and to be loved.”
Auva’a believes society is widely reflected within that driving force. “Audiences will be able to see that and hopefully look within themselves and question how they are contributing to that. How they are providing to others around them for them to receive love, as well as be loved.”
Despite being set over 50 years ago, this multi-award winning play is as relevant today as it was then. Says Auva’a, “You won’t see Away with an adaptation like this and a cast this big. You should come for the story, in general, because it’s unmatched. We’re having so much fun making it, and there’s something in it for everyone, really.”
Also, and what grand advice, Auva’a encourages everyone to attend any sort of theatre because you learn so much from it – good or bad.
July 8 – 22