Grim pact hits nerve
Paul Grabovac and Georgia King. Picture: Cameron Etchells

Perth-based theatre director Joe Lui is unquestionably prolific and multi-faceted. Apart from writing and directing works under the aegis of his company, Renegade Productions, he also works in set design and lighting, making him a true auteur and multi-tasker.

Recent works have included The Tribe, Laryngectomy and The Book of Death (A Story of Life) but his latest directorial work, Giving up the Ghosts, is something of a career departure.

Rather than overseeing all aspects of the production, as is usual, he has collaborated with first-time playwright Sarah Young, who has had a diverse training that included classical voice at WAAPA, time at Sydney's Actors Centre Australia, participation at storytelling event Barefaced Stories, and work as a stand-up comedian.

"This is her first play, which is always kind of terrifying for both writer and director," Lui laughs.

"But coming into this year, I had this sense of wanting to direct someone else's text again, and when this opportunity came up I jumped at it.

"The subject matter is interesting and relevant and challenging, and it requires a certain level of sensitivity."

Giving up the Ghosts is based on an English newspaper report about a couple, Steve and Ruth (played here by Paul Grabovac and Georgia King), who meet over the internet, then meet face-to-face and drive to a secluded space where they plan to end their lives in a kind of suicide pact.

"I think Sarah was just fascinated by what might have transpired in the car on that day," Lui explains. "What did these two people talk about? What was said, what was left unsaid? That eventually gave rise to the idea behind the script."

Primarily dialogue-driven, the play is a two-hander about "two lost souls in a pressure-cooker situation". While the subject matter is dark, Lui says there is a certain morbid humour running throughout the script.

"It's a fine line to tread with a story like this because you don't want to trivialise anything, or glamorise anything," he says.

"By the same token, by not trivialising it, you do accept that in a situation like that, there might possibly be a certain amount of gallows humour. That's one of the key ways we deal with major catastrophe, trauma or death, and the play is a reflection of that. You need to honour the situation without being drawn into something that's either too grimly macabre or the opposite, some sort of Tarantino thing.

"That's not the purpose of the piece. We are trying to find the humanity in the headline, and that's been the guiding principle all along. Ultimately, in our re-telling of the events, the final moment is left a lot more open than the newspaper article."

Lui says he will be creating a new work for Renegade later this year which he describes as the most intimate and personal work the has ever done.

"It's the first time I will also be performing in something that I've written, so it's going to be incredibly vulnerable and quiet and introspective," he says. "That's a pretty big departure from the kind of work I'm usually making."

The West Australian

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