Playwright Alma De Groen’s ‘The Rivers of China’ is a captivating play that transcends time and location. 1920’s writer Katherine Mansfield travels from London to Paris on a journey of enlightenment at the hands of notorious healer G.I. Gurdjieff. Coinciding with this, in dystopian Melbourne, a young man recovers in hospital following a tragic accident.
Creating the world of ‘The Rivers of China’ is Designer Martelle Hunt. Her unique vision will see the Theate Works space transformed into a thrust seating configuration, with audiences surrounding the action on three sides. The design will heighten the sense of tension as the story unfolds and characters reveal themselves.
We take five minutes with Martelle as she heads into production week for more insight into working with Don’t Look Away’s Director Phil Rouse to revive this classic Australian play.
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What attracted you to designing for theatre?
I suppose I have always been attracted to Theatre Design. I actually cannot remember not wanting to do this. Both of my parents work in film so I am lucky to have never doubted it as a viable career option.
I learned to sew when I was 5 years old and have always been interested in the social and economical effects on fashion throughout history, and have always been hyper aware to the psychological and emotional effects environment can have.
Initially, what appealed to you most about designing The Rivers of China?
The message that it extends of gender equality. It is always a pleasure to design for a play if it has a good story that is worth telling.
How have you approached the challenge of depicting multiple worlds in the play?
Obviously this developed from long conversations with the Director, Phil Rouse. The play mainly sits within two worlds and a few varied locations within each. It is an emotional roller coaster and asks for a beautiful and sculptural space that lends itself to fluid transitions.
What has been the most challenging part of the design process so far?
When I first read the play it looked like a film in my mind, due to the switching back and forth between worlds. This made it difficult at first to see what it looked like on stage. It had a long evolution, which opened right up as soon as we landed on certain orientational choices within the Theatre Works performance space. At the beginning of rehearsals it was a huge design, but since then has settled as the production slowly revealed it basic needs.
What is your favourite element of this design?
Katherine’s garden. It’s sort of a place in her mind rather than a physical place but it certainly represents the world that she is from. It has a rambling, untamed quality, much like the woman herself.