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ARTS - Soldiering On - Tim Maddock Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 28 April 2008
The name of the new Sydney Theatre Company double-bill is Serpent’s Teeth – a title lifted from the works of the ancient roman poet, Ovid. The production is a modern take on war but, just like Ovid’s poetry, it is preoccupied with gods, monsters and raging battles. Tim Maddock, director of the piece Soldiers, spoke to Darryn King from the frontlines.

Can you tell us a bit about the first play-
Citizens is set against what they call ‘the security barrier’ in the occupied territory. It really just follows a series of fairly everyday events that happen in front of the wall – like people who are transiting from one point to another and have to go the long the way round because of the wall. There’s a kind of universality to it – you feel like it could be referring to any wall in history. Out of these events the audience is supposed to piece together where they are, what’s happening, and where this wall has come from.

What about the second play, which you are directing-
The second piece, Soldiers, is in Australia. The bodies of five soldiers are being sent back from the war in the Middle East. The families of the soldiers have gathered for a ceremony, and these people have congregated in an aircraft hangar, and it’s them talking and releasing their thoughts, feeling and expectations, about them dealing with the return of the bodies and the loss of someone they loved, but also fabricating notions about war and the morality and efficacy of this war, and essentially the meaning, or the meaninglessness, of the deaths of these people – whether in fact the ceremony they’re attending has any meaning, or whether the notion of sacrifice is one that’s just a cover-up of the fact that they died for nothing.

I suppose the intention is to make the two pieces speak to each other as much as possible – not two plays in isolation, but that people make connections between them both intellectually and emotionally.

Is the play occupied with political themes of humanist ones-
Humanist themes, certainly. It’s hard to find a deliberate polemic within the piece – in that sense it’s not a didactic or learning piece, it’s more an experience. Inevitably there are points where the characters speak in a polemical way, because they’re trying to make sense of this event, but they’re not polemical pieces.

Does this piece allow room for optimism, do you think-
I think this is always an idea that’s raised when you’re doing work that’s bleak – the same when you do Beckett, or tragedies of any kind. I’m not a hope junkie or hope dealer. I don’t think you want to peddle hope… but the audience will tend to find their hope, I suspect, even if you aren’t deliberately presenting them with hope.

If you look into cultural violence and have a notion of history it’s hard to then embroider or embellish it with false hope, but you can still find hope in there somewhere. Again, by portraying the actions of ordinary people just trying to deal with the suffering, you’re inevitably going to find signs of hope, because people have to go on and do go on. There is always that spirit of life in Dan’s work.

Do you think there’ll always be something timeless about plays that deal with war and conflict-

Yeah, absolutely. When we started rehearsals for this, we read another of Dan’s works, which he wrote 15-odd years ago during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. And we read it again just to expose the actors to some of Dan’s work that might seem a little similar – and it felt very fresh and it felt like you could do it today. Particularly in light of the things that have happened in the past 15 years.

WHAT: The Serpent’s Teeth
WHERE: Sydney Theatre
WHEN: Friday 25 April – Saturday 17 May