June 5, 2012 | by  |
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By Maxim Gorky, directed by David O’Donnell and Rachel Lenart

This week, the Theatre 301 (Company) and 308 (Scenography) mount their production of Maxim Gorky’s Summerfolk. This production sets the play in a modern- day New Zealand idyll—a secluded bach surrounded by bush. Salient spoke to Jonathan Price about this new production.

I notice in the press release that the filter, if you will, for the production is the recent Occupy Wellington protest. How does a play written in Russia in 1904 reflect the Occupy movement?

Gorky’s Summerfolk was concerned with the apathy of the Russian middle classes, and the so-called intelligentsia. To Gorky, it was unacceptable that these people should be so ignorant of the plight of the working classes or, worse, be perfectly aware of the problems of society, talk about it, and yet feel no obligation to do anything about it. How does that relate to the Occupy movement in New Zealand? The Occupy movement is the one of the biggest protest movements the world has seen, spanning many countries and rallying the support of millions of people. And yet when it came to New Zealand it had approximately the impact of a bout of the flu. No one cared—we seem to consider ourselves, bizarrely, to be removed from the problems of other capitalist societies. But we’re not. So why the apathy? Why the remove? So our Summerfolk isn’t so much about the notion of the 99 per cent as it is about our reluctance to even consider such notions relevant to us.

There appears to be a strain of class-struggle in the production, is it incorrect to say that it is only those people with money (in this sense: those who own a bach and go on holiday) are able to fight for a freer world?

I think its incorrect to say they are the only people who can help us fight for a freer world, but perhaps true to say that they are the most able to help, and the most reticent about doing so. As soon as you become comfortable, it’s very easy to forget about other people and focus on your personal life. What’s remarkable about Summerfolk is that it presents a world where forgetting becomes increasingly difficult, to the point where the personal and the political become inseparable, and the problems of one sphere directly affect the the other. In many ways Summerfolk tells the story of one woman’s political awakening, and the way her new sensitivity lends meaning and fulfilment to her life.

What is it about our bach that inspires in us the freedom to commit “apathy, happiness, and willful acts of forgetting” and, interestingly, does Summerfolk suggest that these phenomena only happen at our baches or is it just that the bach heightens these tendencies that remain constantly latent within us?

I think the latter option—these tendencies are latent in us. The bach provides us with a distinctive piece of kiwi iconography to locate the themes of the play. The bach also becomes very Chekhovian in its function—the place of escape becomes a place of entrapment as our characters’ secrets, fears, lusts etc bubble to the surface. It becomes stifling and claustrophobic precisely because we can’t escape the problems of society—in many ways the bach, as a place of escape, is presented as a kind of myth, an unattainable holy grail.

Runs from 5 to 9 June at 7pm in Studio 77 (77 Fairlie Terrace). Tickets cost $15/$8. 

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