Playwright Jane Bodie on the really big things in life: sex, death and test match cricket
This Year's Ashes is very much a play about Sydney, and yet, according to playwright Jane Bodie, the play's Melbourne premiere at Red Stitch Actors Theatre feels like a homecoming.
Though born and raised in London, it was in Melbourne that Bodie first established herself as a playwright, with the elegant bedroom comedies Ride and Still in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
"It was the happiest time of my life," says the playwright, reflecting on the decade or so she spent in Melbourne.
The move to Sydney, via a brief return to London, was a difficult one. Bodie arrived having recently lost her father, and the city itself seemed to amplify her grief.
"I think they're really like different countries, Sydney and Melbourne," says Bodie. "And actually I think Sydney can be quite a difficult city. It's not a city where you can arrive in a mess and expect people to welcome you."
The culture shock is captured in This Year's Ashes. Ellen (Rosie Lockhart in the Red Stitch production) moves from the gloom of Melbourne to the glitter of Sydney for a new job. Things don't work out so well. She hates the job, doesn't have any friends and has no-one to talk to back home.
"In the play I call Sydney a shiny city, with the light and the water and the harbour," she explains. "People in Sydney always talk about their views, everything is about what you can see, about the surface, and there's an expectation for people to be hard and fast and shiny."
The emerald city has sharp edges. It was in her own feelings of mingled grief and isolation that Jane Bodie discovered the outline of this new play, a play about a woman in an unfamiliar city struggling with an all-encompassing grief: the shadows between the skyline scintillations and the pain behind the harbour glare.
"I had just lost my father, but I didn't want to write only a guttural yell about grief. I was waiting for something else to come along to help me write it," says Bodie.
Help came from an unexpected source: test-match cricket. Her own father loved cricket and often tried – with only a little success – to initiate her into its mysteries.
"I don't fully understand cricket, even though I've done a huge amount of research, and I never fully came to terms with grief, even though I was in it quite deep," she says.
Cricket offered Bodie a world of new metaphors, but it also what she calls "a structural revelation": there are five matches in an Ashes test series and there are, according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, five stages of grief.
Though it is about sadness and distance, Last Year's Ashes is a comedy and a romance. It's about cricket and death, but it's also about the kindness of strangers, sex and falling in love.
And Jane Bodie is now more comfortable calling Sydney home than she was when This Year's Ashes was first conceived. It is perhaps an indicator of her emotional health that she no longer follows – or no longer needs to follow – the cricket.
Still, she is wary of getting too settled in any one place.
"There's a brilliant quote by Julian Barnes that the writer has to be universal in sympathy but an outcast by nature," she says. "I really like the idea that being an outcast means you have a particular view of the world. Somehow you're always looking in."
This Year's Ashes will be directed by Tim Roseman, with Daniel Frederiksen, Rosie Lockhart and Jeremy Stanford.