Hayloft Theatre's newest show throws Elizabethean murder forward 400 years into contemporary Australia
Arden of Faversham, which dates from 1591, a play that scholars have variously attributed to Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe and even Shakespeare himself, is kind of like an Elizabethan Underbelly.
It's a domestic tragedy based on the murder of a business man named Thomas Arden. His wife, Alice, and her lover were convicted of hiring mercenary thugs to do away with him. They were caught, the lover was hanged, and she, in the style favoured by the times, was burned at the stake as a warning to wayward women.
The play, too, was something of a warning: a heavy-handed morality play focusing of Alice's moral repugnance. For this adaptation, however, director Benedict Hardie has torn up the first half of the play – where Alice's duplicitous nature and rotten motives are highlighted – and provided instead a more psychologically complicated context for the murder.
It's now a contemporary story set in Perth, Australia, with Alice the daughter of a super-rich industrialist.
"She comes from money," explains Emily Tomlins, who plays Alice Arden, "and she's been married for ten years, but she's still totally passionate about this man she met in her late teens who comes from a very different background."
Though the original is a tragedy, it also makes use of many comical or absurd plot devices, such as multiple botched assassination attempts, and this atmosphere of tragi-farce has been retained in the adaptation.
"There are some really funny moments," says Tomlins. "It is ridiculous how people keep trying to kill this man, but at the same time there're some really full on things behind."
Given a modern context, it begins to feel like a one of Woody Allen's existentialist farces, like Crimes and Misdemeanours, a black comedy grounded in the many neuroses Alice feels about the world she finds herself in, her fears, her desperation and her short comings.
"Is she bad?" asks Tomlins. "I can't judge her. There's so much about her that I wonder at, at the motive to murder, at cheating on someone, at continuing to be in a relationship that is so completely fucked, but then there are aspects of all of her behaviour that I can totally understand."
It has been a very busy year of independent theatre for Tomlins who has already twice appeared with her own company Elbow Room, with Psychoknot Theatrics in the Melbourne Fringe and with the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble in the Melbourne Festival.
"I thought it was going to be one of those years where nothing happened," she says, shrugging, "but it has been a huge year after all."