Copyrighted to Australian Stage
“It was in 2009 that I first saw Palace Of The End while in Edinburgh and I really liked it,” says Clarke, “I remember at the time I was trying to find a play in England to bring back to Australia and wasn’t having much luck, and then a friend sent it to me as a present – I guess it was just meant to be.”
Palace Of The End has remained with Clarke since 2009 and after seeing Aftermath (New York Theatre Workshop) at the Melbourne Festival his interest in the issue was reignited.
“A lot of my work, in fact most of my work often gives a voice to those who aren’t heard and has a political edge. An opportunity presented itself to produce the show in June and it just fit,” says Clarke, “Especially coming after Nilaja Sun’s No Child which interestingly was also commissioned by the same company in New York, Epic Theatre.”
Clarke’s personal interest in these topical issues can be traced back to an early encounter with the work of Ariel Dorfman:
“I was sixteen when I saw Death and the Maiden and it had a huge impact on me. I must have been quite naïve because I had never be exposed to torture, or even the idea of torture – and it propelled me to find out more about amnesty and really examine the issues of social justice.”
Following a reflective pause, Clarke then adds: “If I look back at the history of my work my main motivation was the desire to make the audience think and I believe that is an essential ingredient in any work.”
With three distinct monologues the desire to challenge assumptions is very pronounced in Palace Of The End which includes unique personal responses to the war in Iraq. Based upon extensive resource material there is also an element of fiction woven through the work to create three startlingly vivid personal portrayals.
The central protagonists of the three monologues: Lynndie England, David Kelly and Nehrjas al Saffarh (played by Hannah Norris, Robert Meldrum and Eugenia Fragos respectively) all offer a perspicacious examination of how human nature demonstrates incredible resilience, especially in such volatile circumstances.
“Because of the highly publicized media frenzy surrounding these characters its quite likely that audience will be familiar with their stories,” shares Clarke, “But its more than just saying ‘oh yeah, that guy’ – its about listening, observing and really making an effort to understand their story.”
Written with clear instructions that all performers must be onstage for the entire duration of the play, Clarke is looking forward to the challenges of creating a taut, entertaining and stimulating piece of theatre.
“I’m a very strong believer that as an actor you are always trying to do something to the other person on stage or alternatively if it’s a monologue, trying do something to the audience, because otherwise it’s just waffle – and nobody wants that.”
The structure as well as the spatial and temporal aspects of the work (the various narratives aren’t placed in any linear fashion) all contribute to creating work that emphasizes the significance of how each individual is affected by their own choice, but also as a consequence of the decisions the government makes. It begs the questions of who is responsible, but equally, how far along do we interrogate the chain of responsibility?
Palace Of The End is certainly profound in its exploration but as Clarke points out, also in its aesthetics. “This is a very poetic work and it requires a real lightness of touch,” he explains, “I think that’s because these monologues ask us to consider our own morals and how we would respond in these situations given the circumstances.”
Written more than ten years ago, the work continues to be relevant. It is more than simply a recitation of bygone events; it is a reminder of the “ramifications of skewed policies and questionable decision making.”
“I find I l always learn a lot more about the world when I work on shows such as these,” confesses Clarke, “And also about myself. For instance, I never saw anything wrong with Saddam being hung… but I am against the death penalty and this makes me really reflect upon what are my morals. This show really is about asking: Can we suspend judgement? Can we listen, really listen? Is it possible to be part of their world, if only for a moment, but come away challenged and inspired?”
Brimming with provocations, and guaranteed to ignite many vital questions Palace Of The End is a thought-provoking production that is the perfect segue from the current production No Child. It promises to be one of this year’s must-see productions.