Complacency, existentialism and guilt: at first glance, these issues seem like a summary of the overarching post-modern experience. But they’re hardly new: as the latest project by Sydney theatre collective Little Eggs explores, they’re rooted deep within human history. Rime of the Ancient Mariner was originally published by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge way back in 1798, but will be given new life by a group of passionate theatre makers led by Director Julia Robertson from next week at King’s Cross Theatre.
A tight-knit cast, actors Annie Stafford and Laura Wilson are both well-versed in the unique Little Eggs process. Both worked on Little Eggs’ award-winning 2018 Sydney Fringe show PINOCCHIO. Rime, however, has been quite a different experience.
“For PINOCCHIO, we didn’t have a script, so it was more about the general gist of the story, and more image-based,” Stafford explained. “With Rime, we have the poem to work off - to break down and decide which parts we wanted to draw out and focus on.”
Wilson chimes in, adding the importance of leaving expectation at the door, and not allowing yourself to be too caught up in the script: “A lot of it is so much trial and error, and trust, and being present and letting go of anything preconceived - when you’re devising you just have to run with it, and it’ll sort of blossom.”
Each of the nine actors in the ensemble have greatly contributed to building the show from the ground up as a collaborative performance. Even throughout our interview, Stafford and Wilson bounced off each other dynamically, building on each other’s answers without ever entirely hijacking the conversation.
“We wouldn’t have the show we’re putting on if even one if these people wasn’t in the cast,” said Stafford. “It’s been a lot about creating a group vocabulary, that everyone shares but is created from what individuals bring in.”
But how do you take a show that’s over 220 years old, and make it relevant and interesting to a contemporary audience? Well, the aforementioned prevailing themes are a good start: “Something we discussed early on is that the themes Rime talks about are pretty relevant,” Stafford continued. “Animal cruelty, climate change, personal guilt, moral issues - and how so many of our actions have a ripple effect, not just person-to-person but also environmentally.”
Wilson further explained how Rime symbolically uses two supernatural characters to represent the “worldwide responsibility” of those in power, from world leaders to large corporations, “in helping things reach an equilibrium - which is what we hope they would do.” At its core, the pair agree Rime explores our inability to change unless we personally are affected.
Wilson also explained how, as a Little Eggs production, Rime transcends language - and traditional theatrical elements - to emotionally affect audience members. “It’s a form of theatre that isn’t extremely popular in Sydney at the moment,” she said. “It’s very different. But whether you can follow the storyline or not, it’s a show that will affect you emotionally.”
Stafford agrees, laughing as she recounts how her mother, a “gorgeous little primary school music teacher” watched PINOCCHIO, and told Stafford, “there were a lot of moments I didn’t understand, but I felt them.”
So will Rime be equally emotionally arresting, I ask?
“Well,” answered Stafford, “since we sing throughout - I mean, music has got to be the most manipulative art form, in the best way possible!” She laughs.
“There’s some really beautiful moments in this show - some heartbreaking, some happy - and ones that really come through when you can’t rely on language. It’s about affecting people in a different way. And they’ll walk away not remembering ‘oh, that line was so funny’ but more like ‘that moment was so beautiful’.”
Rime of the Ancient Mariner will run from April 3 to 13 at KXT Level 4 - Bordello Room. Get tickets here http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/mariner.