Actor Rowan Davie is about to head into Perth for FRINGEWORLD 2018. We caught up with him ahead of his show, The Wind In The Underground which is playing at the State Theatre Centre WA as part of Summer Nights.
You must be getting pretty excited about FRINGEWORLD 2018?
Yes, I’ve actually never been to FRINGEWORLD. I’ve been to Perth three times, but I’ve heard it’s the third biggest Fringe Festival in the world.
Apparently it is! Have you been to any other Fringe Festivals around Australia?
Yeah, back in the day I performed in Adelaide, and I’ve been around Sydney as well. I’ve also been to Edinburgh, too. I originally performed over there in 2007 and it was crazy, so super excited about Perth – it should be cool.
The Wind In The Underground is all about homecoming, do you use your personal experiences much in your performance?
Kind of, actually! My character, Simon, takes a bit of a sabbatical – he takes a year and travels to Europe and does backpacking around. And pretty much falls off the planet – doesn’t talk to his family for four months, and then he comes back at the beginning of the play.
I had a very similar experience – I went overseas for about two and a half years, tried to keep in contact with my family but you know. I think, like any Australian backpacker, I was in Europe, in bars in Paris but I was also a tour guide for about a year – I did history walking tours of Paris. It felt lovely – it was great just learning French and doing all those things you do when you’re really young and you try to figure out who you are.
So, that’s where I think Simon’s really coming from, although I think by the end of his trip he doesn’t really know who he is. It was definitely drawing on those experiences.
So, what is Simon like as a character?
How would I describe him? He’s the baby of the family, he’s really outspoken, fiercely intelligent, but also terrified of losing his siblings and his family, Mum and Dad. Everyone is sort of moving on, in a way – the play in a sense is a farewell to childhood – and Simon being the youngest, I feel like he’s not ready to let things go even though he’s the one who has gone away.
He’s almost coming back a bit ‘tail between his legs’ – I feel like he’s looking for a refuge with his older siblings again.
I see that you’ve performed in a lot of Shakespeare, and quite wordy kind of works, were you that kid reciting monologues? How did you get involved in acting?
Yeah, I did! I started out doing the ‘humorous poetry’ competitions at school and I did speech and drama and all that stuff. I actually didn’t love Shakespeare at school, though, I wasn’t even that great at English at school. But then after I left and went overseas, I tried to write my own novel and read a lot of literature. I guess, similar to Simon in that way, you kind of piece together your identity with all the stuff that’s on offer with different novels or films, and when I came back I did The Players with Bell Shakespeare.
I auditioned for The Players and then we went into schools – just before we started that, I hadn’t read that many Shakespeare plays, so I went to New Zealand for a couple of weeks and read all of the Shakespeares. Which was amazing! Because I was essentially going to be teaching Shakespeare to kids, so I wanted to know it.
That’s an epic task! How do you approach teaching Shakespeare to children?
Well, I mean we didn’t teach it in the traditional sense – I mean, we performed and then would talk about the plays and stuff. But as an actor, you definitely don’t come to it from a position of authority – you’re coming to it almost as a student yourself. The important thing about being an actor in a play is that you’re asking a lot of questions, you’re curious, you’re wanting to research and as you read a play there’s so much that you don’t understand – you just have to look it all up and find out what they mean.
So you read different people in different plays and put together your version of events and interpret it through how you want to play the role. I think with kids, it’s about how they engage with the material.
When you were reading the full Shakespeare folio, were there some works that resonated more than others?
There were, you know. It’s funny, because I read them all in such a short space of time I’ve forgotten a lot of them. But I was also reading a couple of other books that helped me interpret some of it and so, reading Harold Bloom (a famous historian) I noticed he sort of categorises the characters and puts them in context within the broader, Western literature canon, or literature in general. So, the interesting thing for me about coming to it as a student, basically, was approaching and engaging with these really important characters – it was really about those characters that was fascinating for me, you know?
What made those characters like Othello, Iago, Mercutio, Rosaline or whoever, what made them so significant over others. I mean, there are so many plays, and beyond that – you know after Shakespeare when you get into American playwrights or new Australian works, and so I find each part of play history or different playwrights provide their own unique perspective of the world. So, to bring it back to The Wind In The Underground, it’s interesting watching Sam [O’Sullivan, writer] work and being in the room with him or when we’re all together discussing the play – you know, what’s significant and what the play means. And then workshopping it, performing it and coming back with a new draft. It’s just interesting to see how long it takes to produce a good play.
The Wind In The Underground appears to be quite epic in tone, does it compare to any of the classics or is it firmly its own work?
That’s a great question! I wouldn’t actually say it’s ‘epic’ – it’s actually, like the dialogue is really realistic – like the way people actually talk. It’s totally colloquial, people talking over and on top of each other, it’s almost not designed to be read. When we’ve done it, people are always like – wow, it was so lifelike because sometimes you can’t even understand everyone. You might miss a line because people are literally talking over each other.
That’s one of the main things people were enjoying about Sam’s style and I’m sure there’s other work out there that does it, too, but definitely having the director and the writer collaborating with us – to explain how fast they want it to run, or how it’s going to flow. They might be like – no, we need this to be really tight and pace it so that it sounds real. All we wanted to do was create a real family dynamic – something representative of real sibling arguments.
Which character do you sympathise with the most? Is it Simon, or another character?
Potentially Claire, but ultimately it’s a bit of a democracy, you know? I feel like we want ultimately, for everyone to be represented because they all have a complicated history and have had to play different roles throughout their childhoods. In a way, the play is about balancing that. It’s about the four siblings and not really showing Mum and Dad, which isolates their world even more. you get the sense that it’s just the world that exists between these siblings. They are all isolated from the world at one point or another.
Do any of the siblings have children, or is that not mentioned?
It is mentioned, there are some kids. Andrea, the eldest, she has two kids and a husband, which we don’t see but they are mentioned – you know, she’s breastfeeding, having just had a second baby. The others don’t have kids – she’s much older.
Is that significant, do you think, giving that character children when the play is essentially about regressing into childhood?
Yeah, I reckon. Because in a way it’s a farewell to childhood, I feel like Andrea having kids – and being the oldest – she has assumed the role of ‘Mum’ as a kid and now we see that she still loves her brothers and sister, but she has her own family and her own responsibilities. So we see her change – moving from one family to another, in a way.
What do you think people are going to get out of this show?
You know, the play is about family, and in the past, when we’ve done our runs of it people really respond to and are moved by the relationships between the brothers and sisters. Because the play is rooted in the real minutiae and struggles of everyday life – selling a house, financial realities – it’s really trying to represent those relationships the way they move and change. I think it’s a really moving thing to watch, too. Hopefully people are moved!
Rowan, are you big on nostalgia or do you cut ties? Would you have a problem selling your childhood home?
No, I’d totally do it! I remember talking to my sister about this, actually. She was someone who was always really sentimental and I was always like – just get rid of things. I would always just get rid of things I didn’t want like my old trophies, because they would like, weigh me down, so I do relate a lot to having that experience.
I’m similar to Simon in that he just wants to make it easy, although it’s a little bit complicated because they’re losing their Dad to dementia. But yes – totally would cut ties!
It all seems to be tied to memory as well. Do you feel that the place begets the memories or the people you made them with?
Oh, the people who made them for sure. I feel like that comes through in the end of the play. But for me, definitely the people and there’s sort of a thing that the memories we see are through Claire’s eyes – she’s the one struggling to let go of the house the most because she’d been living there. So, the play kind of straddles that almost ironic thing where you have these memories happening but then also in reality the characters are together and fighting! So there is that dichotomy between the old and the new with all the memories, and then everyday life.
I know you’ve never been to FRINGEWORLD but what are you looking forward to the most when it starts up?
I am looking forward to seeing a whole bunch of shows. I’ll pretty much see anything – I just need to go past it! The thing I’m most excited about is seeing heaps of great theatre, and of course, going to the beach.
You can catch Rowan in THE WIND IN THE UNDERGROUND at the State Theatre Centre WA from 27 Jan – 3 Feb as part of FRINGEWORLD 2018.
Tickets available here: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/the-wind-in-the-underground-fw2018