Red Stitch’s current production, playwright Tom Holloway’s Beyond The Neck, is making its Victorian debut some five years after it was written — and after acclaimed seasons in Tasmania, Sydney and London.

It’s a long overdue Melbourne showing for the debut play from a writer whose subsequent work, Red Sky Morning, won a Green Room Award.

“Tom is undoubtedly one of the best and brightest new playwrights in Australia,” Beyond The Neck director Suzanne Chaundy told the Star Observer.

“Not only does he tackle some very difficult subjects, he’s also stylistically very fascinating. This is his first play, and I thought it was a great pity that Melbourne audiences who’ve seen all his subsequent plays haven’t had a chance to see where they’ve emerged from.”

The delay is especially puzzling given the close-to-home content Beyond The Neck tackles: the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur, and how those affected — directly or indirectly — have processed the grief that comes after such an unthinkable tragedy.

“So many Victorians were directly affected. On opening night, we had two people in the audience who were in the café on the day and survived the massacre,” Chaundy said.

“Tom had interviewed them as part of the research in putting the play together, and they were so supportive and wonderful.”

Set 10 years after the massacre, Beyond The Neck shows four characters arriving at Port Arthur on the same day. The site’s dark past gives rise to different emotions in each of them.

“It’s not a traditional play by any means,” Chaundy said. “There are four characters without names who slip in and out of telling very specific-character related stories, to being chorus members who give advice to the other performers — correcting what they’re saying, telling them they shouldn’t be saying what they’re saying.

“It all ties in with the incredible ability of the people who went through the massacre to actually talk about the events.”

Ultimately, Chaundy said she thought Beyond The Neck may have been the playwright’s own attempt to make sense of the tragedy. A Tasmanian, Holloway was a 17-year-old pizza boy when news of the massacre broke, the pizza orders stopped, and he was sent home for the day as the nation came to a standstill.

“But despite it being about Port Arthur, I think it also catches something quintessential about the Australian response to tragedy. We’re able to cope, to carry on, to say, ‘We’ll be alright’.”

INFO: Beyond The Neck, Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre, until April 14. www.redstitch.net

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