In the days of final rehearsals for Campion Decent’s new play Embers, the playwright was discussing the subject matter of his new work with some close friends.

The more he talked about the tale of a community battling a bushfire, however, the stranger the looks on their faces grew.

One of his friends finally remarked, This play is so not gay! How did you ever get it on at the Sydney Theatre Company when it has no gay characters in it?

The story makes Decent laugh. As he’s a former editor of Sydney Star Observer and the writer of such gay-themed plays as Baby X and Three Winters Green, his colleagues just assumed Embers would continue Decent’s theatrical exploration of the stages of gay life.

But not in this play. During a break in Embers rehearsals, just before opening night, Decent sits on the windswept terrace of The Wharf theatre complex, and explains the way other topics have caught his attention in recent years.

There are others things in my life these days, he says.

I know at some point my playwriting will return to cover things in the gay community, but this is a break.

However, considering the play is about a community’s resilience, given my background in the gay community it does resonate for me on that level.

Embers is based on interviews and observations Decent made in the aftermath of the January 2003 bushfires, which swept through the alpine regions of southern NSW and Victoria.

The play tells the tales of survival as various rural communities pulled together to help each other through the ordeal, when it seemed they were facing certain destruction in the path of the inferno.

Embers stars Annie Byron, Tracy Mann, Mark Pegler, Tim Richards and Mat Zeremes as the embattled rural inhabitants who recount the lengths they went to in order to save their homes, properties and the people they love.

Albury-Wodonga’s HotHouse Theatre Company, where Decent is artistic director, initially commissioned the play. Embers was originally intended as a way of involving the performing arts in the recovery process for the local people.

The community angle has always interested me, as most of my work has evolved out of some kind of community basis, Decent says. I also liked the concept of putting fire on stage as a topic as flame is something we are either drawn to or horrified by.

But this story is about human nature and the character of Australia. It seems to me, in the world we live in, where the individual often feels we have no control over bigger events, there is something in this story about how individuals come together into a community structure.

It takes a fire to bring them together, and there is an element of community empowerment for the greater necessity. Then there is also the aspect of the conflict over the way the fires were handled.

It’s fascinating to explore the way the blame game was played out and the ways adversity can also divide communities. We’ve all seen that, too.

Embers is playing at The Wharf, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. Bookings on 9250 1777.

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