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The River

Jez Butterworth's The River arrives as a mysterious play about a man and a woman who sneak away to a secluded cabin to go fly fishing in the moonlight. But, as in all good dramas, things might not be what they seem.

Red Stitch Theatre has previously brought two other Butterworth plays to the stage, The Night Heron and The Winterling. Red Stitch’s version is directed by John Kachoyan and the cast includes Dion Mills, Christina O’Neill and Eva Seymour. Beat talks to Red Stitch Actors Theatre member Ngaire Dawn Fair about the work. “The River came after his play Jerusalem which was a big Broadway hit,” says Fair. “Everyone was wondering if it would be as good. The River is so different – it’s so intimate, so much smaller in scope, being about a new relationship.”
 
Fair describes The River as being full of "tension and dark squirmy moments". In fact, the production's masterful handling of pacing and tension is one of the reasons the play is so exciting. "It’s about a new relationship, those times where you question everything, read into everything, and your heart’s in your throat," says Fair. "There is the possibility of a new connection but you’re unsure – you’re always second guessing.”
 
Fair's character is on a journey of self-development. “She’s on a quest to be honest and authentic," analyses Fair. "She is finding out what we risk by putting her heart on the line. There’s potential in this relationship for her. Butterworth uses fly fishing as a metaphor – the spiritual experience of fly fishing – to express the risk and the lure of this stage of love. I like that she’s complicated. She’s actively seeking something. She wants to know what it means to be seen, to be loved. She’s an intelligent, well-read character. At the time of the play she’s reading To the Lighthouse. She’s constantly analyzing her own behavior while trying to be exposed and naked and vulnerable with this new person. Everyone can connect with this play. We want to be fearless and brave ourselves. The River is about what it is to be human; we use another person to fully experience ourselves, we think if we connect fully with someone we can experience ourselves and find solace in that. It’s a little bit like Inception. The audience will have their own theories about what the play means, they will bring their own experiences to the play, informed by the relationships in each of their lives.”
 
The cast ventured off for a sojourn in the bush to properly capture the crystalline ambiance of nature for the play. “We went to stay in a cabin. We went fly fishing and we had to drink whiskey and toast marshmallows," laughs Fair. The things you do for art. “It’s such an elusive play. We’re all working together to make decisions about time-lines and create tones that are not necessarily in the script.”  Fair says it’s good to see her fellow Red Stitch ensemble actor Dion Mills in a leading role. “He’s so magnetic. He’s leading man, but he’s been performing a lot of character roles lately.” Ultimately, Fair takes away a little bit of every role she plays. “I carry a little bit of that character around with me. This character is very different from me. That’s always fun – you know immediately when you don’t align with a character and you have to dig a little bit deeper to connect. Jez Butterworth is obsessed with theatre. He says that in life – to a degree – we’re always performing. We’re always in some sort of performance. It’s interesting to keep that in mind. As an actor, it frees everything up. It makes it more real."
 
BY LIZA DEZFOULI

THE RIVER will make its Australian premiere at Red Stitch Theatre, running from Tuesday April 26 to Saturday May 28.