I was still trying to wrap my head around Away as I exited the Malthouse Theatre. The Australian classic doesn’t provide easy answers, but it gives audience members plenty to think about. The play takes place in the summer of 1967, when the country was feeling the impact of the Vietnam War. The script follows three families, as they struggle with the fear (and reality) of losing their children that were on the cusp of adulthood.
Audience members with knowledge of this time period will appreciate details of the decade — such as a lean-to tent, caravan camping, or a distressed mother attempting to choke down a packet of Bex headache powder. If none of these elements are familiar, never fear. It’s the characters — with their struggle, sorrow, and joy that continue to make the show relevant today (20 years after it was first produced). Director Matthew Lutton states, “Away is also a portrait of a country struggling to come to terms with who it is and whom to include. It paints an Australia with a distinct awareness of class divisions that is struggling to empathise with others and is choosing to repress what is difficult and complex to say.”
The production is engaging, both emotionally and visually. Dale Ferguson’s set design is arresting; his use of the Merlyn Theatre space is one of the most creative that I’ve seen in quite some time. Lutton’s story-telling is theatrical, but the characters are relatable and grounded in their own humanity. Liam Nunan was charming as the vivacious Tom while Heather Mitchell played Gwen’s nasty streak to its full potential.
While the themes are dramatic, there was plenty of humour interspersed throughout. The show ran for nearly two hours without an interval, but the time sped by. It’s a big call, but after seeing Away on opening night, the show claimed a top spot on my list of favourite Malthouse Theatre productions.
Jenny S. is an event adventurer. When she’s not attending live shows, you can find her sampling the latest craft beer or sipping a creative cocktail.
Away runs until 28 May at the Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street Southbank, VIC 3006.