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Vivid White: a story of loyalty and real estate

 “In Melbourne, real estate would have to be even more important than sport, really.”

I’m a sucker for a haunted house story. I suspect it’s because houses are designed to be our own little refuge from the world, the place our guard is rested, so stories that explore what happens when that security is tested are perennially interesting. Vivid White may not be a haunted house story per se, but it is concerned with real estate and personal histories. It also happens to be a comedy – with songs.
 
While director Dean Bryant is reluctant to style it a musical, he’s effusive when it comes to how much the cast and crew are enjoying bringing it together. “We’re only ten days into rehearsals, and we’ve had puppetry workshops, we’ve had movement workshops, we’ve had band calls, harmony calls, voice works,” Bryant says. “It’s a crazy period, which is great because the actors I’m using are those crazy, inventive comedians who are up for anything.
 
“I got the script 18 months ago, and even reading it the very first time I thought, ‘Whoa, this is already not what I expected.’ [18 months is] on the longer end for something at a state company, but that’s an accident of being the final show of the season, when you announce a season six months before it starts. It’s actually been great really, because new work – especially new work as complicated as Vivid White – can use all the development time it’s got.”
 
Complicated, but also rather universal. Vivid White is a story of loyalty and real estate. Though the housing market isn’t exactly the most hilarious association we have with theatre, it has proven to be a rather ripe field for Bryant and his cast. After all, the majority of us live in a house; we might not consciously think of them as being intrinsic to who we are as individuals, yet they’re as ubiquitous as pants.
 
“Don’t you think in Melbourne, real estate is the topic that every single person has an opinion on? It’s funny. When you casually mention it – ‘Oh, real estate and theatre, how could that ever match?’ – but really, drama is meant to be representative of what we spend most of our lives thinking and talking and acting about. In Melbourne, real estate would have to be even more important than sport, really.
 
“If you get The Age every weekend, you get a free real estate magazine with it. And it’s really big. There will always be a page three story on what percentage have gone this weekend compared to last weekend, compared to last year, it’s so ingrained in every single person. You’re either an owner thinking about an investment property, if you’re going to use your super to buy it, or you’re someone in their 20s thinking when they might buy, compared with if they’ll ever be able to buy. It’s such a defining thing for where you are on the status and success ladder in Australian society.”
 
The production is a commission by Eddie Perfect following the success of his 2013 MTC debut, The Beast. Bryant and Perfect have known each other for years, and Perfect is long-familiar with Bryant’s particular theatrical flairs. It’s one of those meeting-of-minds that seems inevitable in retrospect, and may well set the stage for collaborations to come. That said, at the core of Vivid White is the idiosyncrasy of friendship, with all of the fragility and peculiarity that comes with it.
 
“How do you survive a long-term friendship, when people’s lives change so much? Especially when one couple become very famous and successful, how do you pretend you’re just the same friends you were when you were 17 and had nothing? That’s one strand. The other is, how do you behave as a human when the world starts falling down around you? Do you chase more important things, or do you selfishly stick to your own goals?
 
“Essentially, Vivid White is an apocalyptic drama, and to show that on stage is going to require a lot of stagecraft. In that respect MTC is the perfect venue because we have the resources to do such an exciting piece of theatre. In terms of audience, I think it’s exciting.”

Catch Vivid White at The Sumner, Southbank Theatre from Saturday November 18 to Thursday December 23.