Sepia is one of two shows I’ve seen this Fringe that tells a local story (the other is Sons & Mothers). Locally written and produced this play is a fantastic example of what South Australia has to offer the arts.
It starts more or less in the present, with the approval of a large mining project and an associated desalination plant with the potential to decimate the Giant Australian Cuttlefish, Sepia apama. The cuttlefish are an important tourist attraction and central to Neil’s dreams as the owner of the local caravan park. Dreams that with the announcement of the desal plant he feels are shattered.
In the present day his family is sundered, split between good jobs in the city and dreams of a free and unfettered life. His wife, Emma, works for the very company responsible for the mining project, while his son, Matt, spends his days in the steel factory with the life he fought to free himself from. From this point the play moves back in time, to two distinct moments that define and explain the present situation of the family.
The script is humorous and the characters are engaging, well performed, the stories of the family draw the audience in, without realising it the hour passes unbelievably quickly. While the play’s namesake, the cuttlefish, feature in the play, what is more central is the family. The dreams, desires and squabbles every family has as it grows and changes. The cuttlefish become more a topic of conversation, a backdrop, for the family and its story.
I’ll admit the polarities of what the characters represented did annoy me a little bit, but that comes from someone who works and campaigns on environmental issues by day (at night I transform into a theatre goer). So, to a certain extent I resented the classification of the environmentally friendly character as the dreamer, obsessed with the cuttlefish and the world they inhabit.
The conversations that take place in the play, are ones I’ve had any number of times with friends who work for mining companies (there are a lot of them). So for that part, perhaps I was a little too close to the subject matter to be able to just sit back and be absorbed in the story. I clearly come into this play sitting on one side of the fence, others will sit on a different side. Sepia doesn’t offer answers or solutions, this story hasn’t finished, it’s still on going, the answers and solutions may not be known for decades if there are any.
Sepia tells the story of what falls between the cracks when big decisions are made far away from where the consequences will eventually be felt both physically and temporally. At one level it is the story of big mining versus the environment, but it predominately tells of the tensions between regional and urban Australia, between having the space to dream and being restricted by reality, between the past, present and the unknown future, and what those tensions means for a family of three.
Sepia is showing at RiAus Wednesday through Saturday for the rest of the Fringe.