One of the great things in theatre – though really any artistic form – is that you have to expect and embrace the obstacles and the challenges. That’s part of the creation of it,” says Sarah Goodes, director of The Effect, which starts this week at the Sydney Theatre Company. “When we were right in the thick of it and struggling, it was like, ‘This is normal.’ We wouldn’t be doing our job if we weren’t struggling with it. You need to; it’s part of it. You need to keep investigating, trying it different ways. It’s an evolving thing.”
Though Goodes is a very convivial conversationalist, her sentences tend to scatter all over the place like ants swarming a piece of cake. Her enthusiasm is infectious, but at times it’s as though there are several different thoughts trying to emerge from her mouth at once. She also has a charming habit of inserting supporting dialogue into her responses in the same fashion a character might step forward to contribute lines.
“I’ve been working for a really long time directing shows, and I think you sort of… in order to do a show you need to immerse yourself in it, and sometimes you come out of it and look back and go, ‘Wow, that was a really tough one.’ Your memory is really good in forgetting the horror; it tends to remember the good bits. You tend to remember the shows where you all just came together and it was a great time, you know? [The Effect] is a really interesting play, and it’s so brilliantly written. It’s one of those ones where you start digging and you go, ‘Oh yeah, this is cool, we know what this is.’ But then the more you dig, the more there is, and you start saying, ‘Fuuuuck! It’s much bigger!’”
The Effect certainly sounds like a fascinating piece of multi-layered theatre. In the Lucy Prebble-written play, we follow medical volunteers in a drug trial as they are being observed by a psychiatrist, who is in turn observed by a doctor. Then, of course, there is Goodes the director, asserting her own control of character and scene. Suddenly, the complications of mounting such a production seem vast. Goodes laughs.
“That’s exciting, I think, and challenging. It’s definitely one of those pieces that has a lot more going on than at first appears. A lot of the physical language of a piece has to be discovered and created on the floor of the rehearsal room, so there is an element of how prepared you can be, and then how much has to be generated from the actual combination of everyone in the room discovering it together. How does time move in this world, how do people move, how do they appear and disappear? I find I always get to this point and go, ‘Ahhh! How come I couldn’t have seen this before?!’ But you can’t, really; it’s something that needs to grow organically. Otherwise you start pushing a round peg into a square hole.”
Helming such a complex show sounds exhilirating – but also rather exhausting. The end result, however, justifies the stress faced along the way.
“There are times when I wish I was a photographer or a painter and could lock myself in a room and just do something on my own,” says Goodes. “But most of the time, this is what I love most. I love looking back and remembering that really fabulous connection between the actors and me, with the sound designer, the lighting and set designer. Having those extreme challenges is exciting, and finding different ways to tell complicated stories is just great.”