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March 26, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Interview with Shannon Tubman

Gryphon theatre is beginning its 2012 season with Vivienne Plumb’s The Wife Who Spoke Japanese in her Sleep, adapted by the author from her short story. At the helm is first-time director (and some-time producer) Shannon Tubman, whose intention is simple: “For me, the main goal is to see if I could entertain people, and I think entertainment for the majority of people is having a good time and laughing.”

Enter Honey and Harold, a couple settling down for a long, comfortable retirement in the suburbs, whose world is upended when Honey begins talking a foreign language in her sleep. The shock of having this most intimate form of multiculturalism thrust upon them puts the couple’s baby-boomer sensibilities to the test, particularly Harold’s. “It’s like a soft form of racism,” says Tubman cautiously. The sort of stuff Grandad gets away with? “When I read it, I was laughing at my friend’s parents and distant second cousins of that age group…. I felt like I was laughing at people I knew.”

Despite featuring a “softly” racist retired couple, this comedy is not typical Roger Hall fare. Readers of the short story will recognise the absurd fairytale-like elements in Honey’s bizarre stroke of fortune and expeditious rise to fame. Like any good fairytale, there is a darker side with lessons to be learnt. “If you go in expecting there to be a deeper level, you can find it – but it’s not hitting you in the face. It has an undercurrent of another story and another moral, but it’s not there if you don’t want it.” Indeed, the ambiguous ending has made for great discussions: “The cast has persisted in being quite split about it.”

Tubman has seized the opportunity to throw some cultural challenges at her cast, too, whom she has practicing origami, Kabuki and tai chi (though the latter is not strictly Japanese). “It’s giving the actors the opportunity to learn a little bit more. And then showing the audience a little bit of something they might not ordinarily see; opening that cultural window just a little bit.” Tubman says she has tried to utilise the powerful aesthetics of traditional Japan in her production. “As soon as you ask someone to say something about Japanese culture, it’s a visual connection. It’s gorgeous.”

A self-confessed critic of other people’s work, Tubman admits that the impetus for the show was partly a desire to “put my money where my mouth is.” So, has she caught the bug from her maiden production? “I’ve found myself in the past two weeks thinking about a couple of other projects, so I think that means I want to keep doing it.”

The Wife who Spoke Japanese in Her Sleep plays at Gryphon Theatre on 27 and 28 March at 6:30pm and 29 to 31 March at 8pm. Tickets cost: $22/$20/$18 for groups of 10 or more.     

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