Theatre People: Christian Taylor Talks Shrine

 K.E. WEBER — MAY 27, 2017

 The Kin Collective are excited to bring the Melbourne premier of award winning playwright Tim Winton’s play, Shrine, to fortyfivedownstairs. It marks Winton’s third examination of the iconic Western Australian landscape and its inhabitants.

Actor Christian Taylor plays Jack Mansfield. Read on as Taylor talks about the play, its themes, his role and the future.

THE PLAY:

When I first heard about this play I had just finished performing a season of a solo show I wrote for Melbourne Fringe last year. That show was about the end of the word, death, insomnia and grief – you know, small things. So I jumped at the chance to be involved in Shrine. It explores similar themes, but through the breakdown of these once very safe and stable relationships, which makes the fallout even more catastrophic. Loss is uncertain territory, and grief is unpredictable and morbidly fascinating. As an actor, the more you explore it, the more you realise how much you don’t understand it. You have to embrace it’s incomprehensible nature, which is challenging but also really rewarding.

It’s a story about the process of grieving and remembering, and but the sacredness is constantly questioned. Who is entitled to grief? Who owns the memory of someone who’s died? How are you “supposed” to mourn? Personally, Winton’s writing really challenges this concept of grief as something we should run away from. All of the characters hide behind a variety of survival instincts when faced with Jack’s death, because they think it’s shameful, or bottomless, or guilt-ridden. Despite the phrase “grieving process”, we as a culture don’t treat it like that. We treat it as a state from which there is no escape from. But Winton’s character’s have to learn to lean into it. Just because it hurts, doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I play Jack, a nineteen-year-old who dies in a car crash under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Jack’s death doesn’t so much propel these characters’ stories forward as cause them to disintegrate. He becomes a tangible presence that hangs over everything, waiting for everyone to put themselves back together.

Jack is a young man on the edge of adulthood and has never really had to deal with suffering or injustice. So I guess what I really like about him is that he doesn’t really care what people think of him and approaches everything with this boyish wonder, this really enviable naivety. But he’s also not a half-arse type of guy. When he decides to do something he follows it through right to the end. So what’s fascinating is that he actively reorients almost all of his priorities when he finally realises how violent the world can be – he takes a very conscious, if somewhat impulsive, step into adulthood.

THEATRE VS. FILM

Theatre gives you amazing freedom to continue to evolve and explore a performance throughout rehearsals and during the season; there is never an end to the process. Film, however, has this amazing immediacy and intimacy to it – your responses become really instinctual and I love surprising myself like that. It’s a really difficult question to answer because they’re so unique. At this point in my career, I would say theatre is most interesting to me, but I suspect that will shift back and forth in the future.

The year has filled up so quickly it’s hard to keep track. I’m currently writing a play about climate change and terrorism that I’m developing with the help of the Emerging Writer’s Festival and will have a public reading of it during the festival this year. Also during the festival I’m curating and producing a 24-hour play generator with a group of exceptionally talented young writers. Then it’s into rehearsals for a play at La Mama written by the brilliant Georgia Symons. Finally, I have several developments and performances coming up for a physical theatre show I’m performing in, called The Bells. And that’s only up till September, so it’s definitely busy to say the least.

AUDIENCE MUST SEE:

To start, you have an incredibly talented cast, and a creative team at the top of their game. Also, I believe it’s just a really important and moving story. As Winton commonly notes, death and grief are incredibly taboo for Australians. And it sure as hell isn’t healthy, because grief is inherent to what makes us human. It might be difficult to confront, but Winton shows us that there is also incredible humour, joy and beauty to be found in such experiences. It’s really stunning.

Christian is a Melbourne-based actor, writer and theatre-maker and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a BFA in Theatre Practice (2014). His theatre-making practice investigates speculative environmental literature and immersive performance. Christian was awarded Best Emerging Writer at Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016 for his play How Can You Sleep At Night. Christian’s film credits include: Gabby’s First Time (dir. Tristen Barr); Reactions (dir. Hayden Mustica); and Champion (dir. Sally Mclean). His theatre credits include: Tuesday (VCA); Plus Sign Attached (VCA); Flashblaks (Ilbijerri Theatre); How Can You Sleep At Night (Melbourne Fringe); and The Bells (Theatre Research Institute).