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Tim Winton has written some incredible books, including one of my very favourite books: Cloudstreet, so when I saw that the annual subscription for my local theatre included a production of his play Shrine (directed by Kate Cherry) I had to go! This is Winton’s 3rd play and I haven’t seen any others of his so I didn’t know what to expect, well I did expect to be distressed and wounded by the story because that’s what his writing is like! Shrine explores the heart-wrenching issue of road deaths on country roads in Australia. Too many of us have lost friends or family to road deaths so I anticipate this story will reach out to everyone who sees it. The play features a great set designed by Trent Suidgest, with an island of tarmac beneath the performers and a black wave above them with a ragged cloudy sky behind them.
The play starts with a heart-rending outpouring of grief by the parents (Adam [John Howard] and Mary [Sarah McNeill) of the car crash victim (Jack [Paul Ashcroft]). Much of the play involves reminiscences and because of that I found that I was not drawn into the emotion of the story despite the important elements being there: tragic story of a life cut too short, palpable grief especially for Mary etc. I’m not sure what it was missing but I didn’t even go close to crying (unlike in Winton’s books); perhaps it was the removed nature of much of the retelling, or the focus on the middle-aged Adam (who I couldn’t relate to). The most interesting scenes for me are in the burgeoning friendship between Adam and a local girl named June (Whitney Richards). In the early stage of their interaction Adam is wary but by the end there is a warmth to their interaction. Winton writes the role of Jack’s so-called ‘friends’ (Ben [Will Mcneill] and Will [Luke McMahon]) well and the strongest emotion I experienced was anger towards Will who is a revolting person. I do wish that Winton would write a positive role for female characters instead of being either victims of domestic circumstance, poverty, violence, or objects of desire.
and these themes are all central to this play as well. I wonder where the raw material comes from for him to write 24 books and 3 plays on similar themes. I’m not complaining though; as I said I love some of his books! I could see aspects of several of his previous works in Shrine, for example Dirt Music with the obsessional unrequited longing (June) and the tragic car accident that ruins everything (Jack) followed by the glimmer of redemption thanks to friendship (Adam and June).