Kip Williams has been described as one of Australia’s theatrical savants, and while this is arguably true, it glosses over the dizzying amount of work the Sydney Theatre Company resident director has put into building his still-burgeoning career.
The last 12 months alone have seen a celebrated production of Macbeth featuring Hugo Weaving and a revival of the classic Tennessee Williams play, Suddenly Last Summer. But it is the director’s 2012 staging of Dylan Thomas’ luminous Under Milk Wood that has the greatest resonance with his latest undertaking, Love And Information. Though as Williams explains, the echo of each and every playwright is carried from stage to stage.
“I read it about three years ago when it was first published, and was immediately taken by the philosophy in it,” Williams says of what first drew his interest to Caryl Churchill’s celebrated script. “It’s an existential philosophy at its core, and posits quite a brutal premise that human beings are potentially just vessels of information, designed to pass on that information from generation to generation. Within that context she poses the question, ‘If that is the nature of our life, than how do we generate meaning?’
“I was very much drawn to that, and read it around the same time that I was thinking about the production of Macbeth. It certainly became one of my entry points into that text. I’m very drawn to the early existentialism Shakespeare is working through in that piece of writing, particularly in the speech ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’. Again, this relationship between the meaning of life and the impermanence of life. I felt there was resonance between both those writers, and so Love And Information stayed with me.”
The parallels between the sprawling lyricism of Thomas’ ‘play for voices’ and Churchill’s hundred-character carousel make for a tantalising interpretation. While there is no clear line connecting the development of themes and preoccupations within Williams’ career – as in the illustration of mankind’s evolution, from primate to pants – there nevertheless remain ghosts within his staging, shaping the director he is yet to be.
“I think any artist’s career is one of evolution and development of certain ideas,” Williams says. “I’m a big believer that if you’re struck by a certain idea, it’s incredibly important to express it as quickly as possible, because if you don’t, I don’t think you ever really move on from that. You’re often stuck in a situation where you’ve changed as a person but that idea is still in you in some way.
“So I think the surest way for an artist to develop is to work in a prolific way, and naturally evolve through that process. I certainly think Under Milk Wood informs this production, in that they are the two pieces of work that I’ve done that most ostensibly have no narrative form and essentially use time as a form of structure. They both paint a portrait for an audience rather than tell them a story.
“It’s almost arguable in Love And Information that all of the scenes could be taking place at the same time. The formal nature of the text speaks very much to the way we consume information today, that kind of onslaught and variety of information that we’re assaulted with, though the piece itself is not about technology. What I love about it is that through this very contemporary, formal reflection, it reveals something that’s quite eternal within human beings, and is a particular crisis that we’re still facing today.”
Love And Information runs Thursday July 9 – Saturday August 15, at Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company.