Tony Llewellyn-Jones Interview: Directing Proof by David Auburn for Canberra Repertory at Theatre 3, Canberra
"If you can't prove one's self to oneself, then you'll be a bit lost." Listening to Tony Llewellyn-Jones, exploring his layers of connection with this city, Canberra, and how he comes to be directing his first stage play Proof for Canberra Rep, I found myself drawn into the world of his imagination and memory. This is not a man out to prove himself to the world in a competitive superficial sense. This is not an actor playing the role of "Actor". Here is a man whose art is his life, who has proved his worth in the performing arts over a 30-year career, who still seeks to prove himself to himself.
According to your age and viewing interests you will have seen Tony Llewellyn-Jones on television in (among many others) All Saints, Backberner, Hell Has Harbour Views, GP; in films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Fatty Finn, and Cosi; and on stage from Melbourne Theatre Company's early 1970s Theatre-in-Education troupe, through every play you can imagine from MTC, the original Nimrod Theatre, the Old Tote (remember Norman in The Norman Conquests?), Sydney Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare. You probably missed the 1996 production at Club Cockroach of Merry Christmas Pauline Hanson!
You may also not have known about his long-standing relationship with key Australian film-maker Paul Cox. Llewellyn-Jones has been producer, as well as sometimes actor, working on Kostas, Man of Flowers, My First Wife, Cactus and Vincent. Being producer with Cox means much more than being a general manager or administrator. Cox's intensity and concentration on the interior life of his characters requires his producer to become absorbed in the imaginative process, working alongside his director more as a facilitator freeing up the possibilities for the expression of feeling and mood, while at the same time being the commercial negotiator on films which have grown in influence and international standing over Cox's career. For Llewellyn-Jones, I felt, there was a special significance in his work on Vincent, Cox's study of Vincent van Gogh, an artist searching for ways of understanding his demons and expressing himself as fully as possible.
After this, why Proof in Canberra for Rep? Though this may be his first job as stage director, Llewellyn-Jones brings a special kind of experience which signals an exciting new wave at Rep at this end of his career. At the other end, as a recent immigrant teenager staying briefly with family friends in Canberra, he saw his first stage production in Australia at the original Riverside Hut - The Tempest, probably, he thinks, directed by the inimitable Ralph Wilson. Later there was NIDA, and also a degree in Fine Arts and Aboriginal Studies at ANU. He says 3 years in Canberra means you are hooked for life - in your mental life, even if you need to live elsewhere.
Special memories are his walks to the top of Capital Hill, pondering on the thought that the legendary King O'Malley had left his thumbprint on that foundation stone - a look back in wonder - and we laughed at the "rampage" of Bob Ellis and Michael Boddy's seminal Australian happening The Legend of King O'Malley. A memory, too, when plans for the new Parliament House were announced, of discovering a small circle of Indigenous people around a fire, sharing a beer, without polemical speeches, sitting in silent witness for weeks through a bitter winter just above O'Malley's thumbprint, waiting "for the top of the hill to be chopped off like the top of an egg". Such a beautiful rounded hilltop, trees outlined against the sunset. Such feeling, in memoriam, in his memory.
I felt, in Lewellyn-Jones' acceptance of Canberra Rep's offer to direct, a sense of commitment, even obligation, to give something back to this city. David Auburn's Proof is about an academic family, riven with trauma from within and without as the university property division plans to resume the house that has been home to two generations. What will the younger family members, and the stranger by the shore, decide as the older people reach their inevitable ends?
By the shore? Lake Michigan, since this play is about Chicago - which should be our sister city, says Llewellyn-Jones. Lake Burley Griffin, of course. Walter and Marion designed their winning plan in Chicago. That city is not all abattoirs and heavy industry. Proof reminds Llewellyn-Jones of ANU, where he still resides when in Canberra - at the professorial University House nowadays, rather than an undergraduate college. He remembers an Australia when performing arts infrastructure like the Opera House were unheard of, but has a vision of our arts precinct - the School of Art, School of Music, Theatre 3, Street Theatre, not forgetting, he says, the Family Law Court (and ANU Arts Centre a little off to the side) - full of drama "as unique as Hickson Road in Sydney".
Rehearsals, with a cast he auditioned - David Bennett, Ellen Caesar, Michael Sparks and Emma Strand - consist of Llewellyn-Jones "quietly weeping" not merely for the characters' struggle to prove themselves to each other and to themselves, but for a group of actors with the capacity for "stillness" and the concentration to bring the "apparent stillness to life". This Proof is not a mathematical exposition in linear logic form, but "the complex formula of love, trust and fear that bind a family together. For better or for worse."
For Tony Llewellyn-Jones, this is your life.
Proof by David Auburn
Canberra Repertory at Theatre 3
Ellery Crescent, Acton
February 18 - March 12
Evening: Wednesday - Saturday 8pm
Matinees: Saturday February 26, 2pm
Saturday March 5, 2pm
Twilight: Sunday March 6, 5pm
Bookings: 6257 1950
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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