Away (2017), Photographer: Pia Johnson
Michael Gow’s Away is a deeply beloved play because through it we are able to see Australia. We see our own families, our own peculiarities, and our own summer rituals. However, we also see a troubled country, and families that are being stretched to the point of tearing.
Behind the veneer of holiday fanfare, Gold Coast glitz, and high school theatrics are three families that are scared, angered, and fracturing. All three families are wrestling with grief; a grief that can drive one away from those they love.
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.
However, Away is a play in which, from out of this muck, the possibility of change starts to arrive. There is no radical moment of transformation or epiphany, as the mythical beach where all three families gather does not provide concrete answers. Instead it is a place where the real work begins. It is a place where listening begins, where curiosity is ignited, where repressed thoughts are put into words and tentative steps are taken forward—the beginning of empathy.
The full-blooded theatrics of Away are also part of why it is so beloved. It is a play where fantasies and dreams erupt from a domestic veneer and where nature is epic and engulfing. And it is a play that recognises how much we love to ‘play’—that by donning a disguise and creating a fantastical story we can sometimes liberate ourselves to speak a painful truth.
Away is therefore beloved because it moves us, because below its summer surface is turmoil, and because it unearths our shared ambition to begin pulling ourselves out from the muck.
— Matthew Lutton
Director of Away & Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre