Precipice, written by Vaughn Springs playwright Cath Ryan, is a new play about people “balanced on the edge”.
It won the 2009 George Fairfax National Playwrights Award, and Ryan developed the script as part of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s writer’s program.
Although it was conceived for performance in a traditional space, when Castlemaine State Festival director Martin Paten suggested the mine as a possible venue, Ryan said she jumped at the chance.
“I drive past the site often, and I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with the mining industry and its environmental impact,” Ms Ryan said.
“When Martin suggested it, it struck me as a potent space to produce my play, because it holds all those tensions between economic and industry drives and the need to preserve natural heritage.
“I’m interested in those collision points or points of tension.”
Ms Ryan visited the Wattle Gully Mine first on a very hot summer’s day, with a gusty wind blowing dust.
“We went into the big tin shed, where the play will be staged and it was creaking, and the air was hot. These are sights and sounds that have a particular feeling.
“The shed is beautiful, with a sense of containment, and the audience will go on a journey to come into the space, then there’s all the different areas in the shed that we’re using in the production.
“The play is intimate and personal, but it will resonate in this non-conventional space.”
Ms Ryan said the mine site, usually closed off to the public, was like a “secret world”.
“They have been so helpful and welcoming, so it’s great that it’s open to the public for this occasion.
“The main theme of the play is about empathy, compassion, understanding and human characters reaching out, so when you put that in the context of the site, it’s about being able to listen, whatever your point of view.”
Ms Ryan said Precipice was a “multisensual” play, with a sound design that works in the site, exploiting the machinery still in place in the shed.
The idea for the play dates right back to her childhood, when she first saw the image of the Tasman Bridge, which collapsed into the river, leaving several cars teetering perilously on its edge.
“That has stayed with me since I was nine or 10, and that image came to me back in 2006, when I was thinking about what was going on politically, and the need for compassion.
“I wanted to think about how we find empathy, what holds us back.”
Precipice is one of the world premiere productions at the Castlemaine Festival which begins today and runs until April 10. It plays at Wattle Gully Mine in Chewton on Saturday 2, Sunday 3 and Monday 4 April at 7.30pm.