Written and directed by Warwick Moss. Presented by the Rev Bill Crews Foundation. Ashfield Uniting Church – NSW. November 9 – 14, 2020.
Reviewed : November 11, 2020
The Rev Bill Crews has a reputation for feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nurturing the vulnerable. He’s also always been an innovator – and COVID-19 has inspired yet another new idea. To accommodate more socially distanced space for services, he’s taken all the pews out of his “grand old church” in Ashfield and put in brand new carpet. But that’s not all. “It is also perfect for bringing the wider community together as an Arts and Performance Space,” he writes. And that’s what he’s done!
With its nave, aisles, transept and altar opened up, the church is a blank canvas for an imaginative director – and Bill’s old friend and biographer, Warwick Moss, had just the play. “When Warwick suggested The Silver Tunnel to launch the space, I was a little sceptical,” Crews says, “but when I read it, what a swashbuckling hoot. A play about suicide. Set in a graveyard, heaven and hell. Performed in a church! What could be better to launch our brand new performance space for Sydney’s west!”
With the audience sitting in the nave on properly ‘distanced’ swivel chairs, Moss directs this production using the altar and both sides of the transept. The stained glass windows of the apse are the backdrop and the arched vault provides perfect acoustics.
His play begins on an oppressive, stormy night in Sydney’s oldest graveyard. Here the caretaker, Harry, played by Ric Herbert, stands amidst seven weathered headstones, all suicides from the First Fleet. Harry has been tending these graves for 34 years. They are special to him. He knows their stories well. He talks to them – and they talk back:
What do ya think about that, Cap’n?
Are you still here?
Bloody want to be after two hundred years, eh?
Then there is Jason (Tim Matthews), a young man just out of school, but suffering from the rejection of the father who has ignored him all his life:
At first I used to run home on weekends; hoping that just once, he’d want to come to the park with me, or go to the cricket, or just sit around; talking.”
Jason is lonely, dejected, depressed and, sensing his destructive intent, the old spirits have called him to the graveyard. How will Harry react? Will he be of any help? Why is he no longer able hear the voices of these graveyard ‘friends’ he has watched over for so long? And how come Jason can?
Although The Silver Tunnel is a conversation about suicide, it’s a very different conversation. Years apart in age and background, Harry and Jason’s dark thoughts are exposed – and with the clever work of sound and lighting designer Sam Taba, Moss lets them see the glowing red prospects of ‘hell’, on one transept of the church, and the ecumenical possibilities of a brightly lit ‘heaven’ on the other.
Depends where ya from.
Got Hindus here; Buddhists, Bahais, Moslems….
Stacks of Catholics. Real tossed salad it is.
Communists; agnostics; atheists….The works.
Ric Herbert creates the character of Harry with convincing clarity. He’s a man who has seen much, suffered a lot. It’s there in his walk; in the way he holds one arm a little stiffly. It’s there in his quick temper; in his eyes that search the space around him, seeing beyond what is really there. His brusqueness only partly covers his vulnerability and sensitivity.
Matthews finds all the pain and anguish of desolate youth in his depiction of Jason. He is hesitant, easily offended – but he keeps coming back, drawn by the voices that give him some comfort and a little confidence.
Moss has given both actors the chance to bring their own interpretation to the characters he created, and directs them sparingly, allowing them to use the space effectively and reach across it to connect with each other … and the audience.
This production has proved a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the potential of this new space. Using three separate acting spaces, creative sound and lighting design, a different seating arrangement, it shows thee possibilities are boundless – like the imagination of Bill Crews himself. Harry could well be describing him in these lines from The Silver Tunnel:
Can you feel it boy?
Can you feel the power?
The wisdom. The lessons man has learnt?
There are plans to take the play on a regional tour – leaving the chance for another production to make use of this creative new performance space.
First published in Stage Whispers magazine