‘Plays don’t get any better than this’

Actor Terence Crawford is relishing his role in State Theatre Company SA’s upcoming season-opening production of The Children, a provocative play that tackles big issues – including the future of the planet, nuclear energy, survival and desire.

Jan 22, 2024, updated Jan 22, 2024
Tina Bursill, Genevieve Mooy and Terence Crawford star in State Theatre Company SA's production of 'The Children'. Photo: Matt Byrne / supplied

Tina Bursill, Genevieve Mooy and Terence Crawford star in State Theatre Company SA's production of 'The Children'. Photo: Matt Byrne / supplied

The Children, from award-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood, follows the lives of three characters in their 60s. Nuclear scientist Hazel and her husband Robin are enjoying retirement in a small English coastal village, despite living just outside the exclusion zone of a decaying nuclear power plant, when their seemingly peaceful existence is shaken by the visit of a friend who stirs up old wounds – on both a personal and global scale.

The play stars celebrated actors Terence Crawford (1984, Girl from the North Country), Tina Bursill (Doctor Doctor, Strife) and Genevieve Mooy (Wellmania, The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race), and comes to Adelaide following acclaimed productions in London, New York, Melbourne and Sydney.

Adelaide-based actor Crawford says he recently read a Martin Amis novel in which one line about turning 60 resonated with him.

“This character says, ’60.. mmm, this can’t end well’,” he laughs.

“You know, I’m 62, so it brings those feelings to the surface of running on for the last quarter of the game, and it’s particularly potent for these people [in The Children] because of the circumstances they find themselves in, having worked at this nuclear facility which has suffered a Fukushima-type disaster.

“They are on the run, in retreat from that and trying to survive with all of the feelings of failure and guilt, I guess you’d say.

“An old colleague comes into their lives who they tell us they haven’t seen for 40 years but this isn’t quite true, so there’s a lot of past on stage and quite a lot of repressed trauma.

“But the thing about this play is not that it’s deep and profound, although it is, it’s that it’s simultaneously so entertaining.”

Crawford explains that while the premise of the play may sound like a “bleak night at the theatre”, this is misleading.

“It’s simultaneously bright and a brilliant script and very entertaining theatre.

“These characters have the kind of depth of an Arthur Miller character. They are really good people who are deeply flawed, which is true of John Proctor in The Crucible and some of the great Shakespearean characters who have greatness and flaws in equal measure.

“So it’s a great actor’s piece and it’s a great piece for the audience to contemplate and worry about but also get a lot of laughs out of.”

Terence Crawford (left) with The Children‘s director, Corey McMahon. Photo: Thomas McCammon

The Children’s creative team includes designer Victoria Lamb, lighting designer Nic Mollison and composer Belinda Gehlert.

Director Corey McMahon describes the production as “a big, little play”.

“It is seriously good writing,” he says. “When I first read the play, I was so taken by it that I immediately went back to the beginning and read it again.

“Lucy [Kirkwood] has expertly captured the existential crisis we are all facing as we navigate a future in the shadow of the climate crisis. Her characters , Hazel, Rose and Robin, are forced to deal with the consequences of decisions they were a party to 30 years ago – decisions that have had a profound impact on the lives of people in the present.

“What I love about the play is that despite the epic themes Lucy is exploring, she has set the story in a very real and very relatable world, with characters we recognise.

“It’s such a privilege to be working with a cast of acting greats, all big hitters, who will bring this startling play to life on stage.”

While rehearsals for The Children began in early January, Crawford – who spoke to InReview in December – has been deeply immersed in research and learning lines for the past six months.

“As an actor, when one is under 40, you don’t have to worry about lines; they just kind of fall in. But for me, the roles have gotten bigger right at the time when the capacity to easily learn them has diminished, so I’ve been learning lines for six months because the alternative is spending four weeks of rehearsal doing nothing but worrying about what the next line is.

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“I always love doing research. I love a play that gives you a lot of stuff to research because it’s part of one’s continuing education, thrown into a new world, and you have to own it.”

Nonetheless, he was looking forward to getting in the room and “doing the real stuff with my colleagues”.

“I’m working with two fantastic actors, with wonderful local director Corey McMahon, and Victoria Lamb doing the set. Personally, I think Victoria is one of the best designers in the country and the set is hugely important in this play because it has to capture this world in retreat, this kind of shack or little farmhouse that they’ve always owned, and the decaying world around them.”

The cast has now begun rehearsals for The Children. Photo: Thomas McCammon

Crawford, who hails from Newcastle, has had two stints living in Adelaide and working with State Theatre Company SA. The first was after graduating from NIDA in 1984, and he then lived and travelled overseas before moving back to South Australia in 2007 with his wife Louise McMahon and their children.

The acclaimed actor is also currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of Adelaide, an honorary position which was bestowed upon him in recognition of his contribution to SA theatre, along with his PhD (a sociology of theatre practices), masters (a thesis on Chekhov in Australia) and a number of scholarly articles he’s had published.

“Adelaide has been very good to us but it’s always difficult because there’s never enough work, particularly for young actors. Theatre work is very scarce,” he says.

“So it’s really great when films and TV series get shot here, as they have recently, but we really need a kind of McLeod’s Daughters being made here consistently because we have amazing world-class crews and a lot of good actors, particularly a lot of really good young actors, many of whom I’ve taught.

“But the great thing about being an actor in Adelaide is it’s a really beautiful community of people and everyone is very supportive of each other…   STC is now led by a very big-hearted and kind and good actor in Mitchell Butel and it has been led by really good people in the past, including my friends Geordie Brookman and Adam Cook, and further back to Keith Gallasch and John Gaden.”

Crawford, far right, in State Theatre Company SA’s 1985 production of Scenes Big and Little, by Botho Strauss, which also starred Ross Williams, Natalie Bate and Dina Panozzo.

Being able to start 2024 with a quality production like The Children is a highlight for Crawford, who says “plays don’t get any better than this”.

“For lovers of theatre, this is going to make you both think and be entertained.

“Most of the audience of major theatre companies are late 50s early 60s, in that age range, so you’re going to relate to what’s going on and I think as a generation we should, well certainly I am, be concerned about what kind of world we’re leaving our children.

“I’m fearful that perhaps we’re the first generation to leave our children a world that we don’t believe is better than the one we inherited, not as good, and I think there’s rightfully the stirrings of a collective guilt about that.

“Certainly, I feel it. I’ve got three kids who all work hard and are in the rental market without much hope of ever getting out of it.

“The housing situation is terrible but it’s not just housing; [it’s also] the planet and all the decisions we’ve made to elect governments and the decisions they’ve made about things like power and shipping all the gas off overseas. So it is certainly a play that provokes these sort of essential and important things for our generation to be considering.”

The Children will be playing at the Dunstan Playhouse from February 2-17.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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