From a university drama club to the Sydney Fringe Festival, postgraduate student Nathan Finger is bringing Narrow as the Line to a much bigger audience. We chat to the writer and director about the intriguing production and his future aspirations.
INTERVIEW Nathan Li PHOTOGRAPHY Kris Gilmour
What is Narrow as the Line about?
I guess the simple answer is that it’s about habit.
Set on the Western front during World War I, the play is an examination of the copying mechanism that the soldiers use to psychologically survive under such appalling conditions with the constant threat of death hanging over them.
There are a couple of tricks the guys use, but the most significant, and tragic, one is that of habit: the idea that if constantly exposed to anything for long enough, no matter how horrible it is, you’ll eventually get used to it and it’ll cease to shock. Between all the jokes and games that the guys play I feel this is what is at the heart of the play.
What can the audience expect from the show?
Well, first and foremost I hope they’re entertained. I know the play can sound a little heavy, but in a sort of absurdist tradition there are a lot of laughs to be had too. My hope is that we’ve hit a nice balance between the comedy and the tragedy, and with any luck there’ll be some poignant moments. I also hope that the audience will be able to think about some of the themes we present in a way they haven’t before, but that may be a tall order.
Who are involved from Macquarie University?
Well there is myself – I’ve been a perpetual student at Macquarie since 2008; I’m currently in the second year of my PhD in 20th Century Drama. We also have our producer, Abbie Hartman, who is completing her education degree and is the current secretary of DRAMAC. Donning a fake mustache to play our gruff and domineering Colonel is the diminutive Sydney Abba, who is a third year law student. And Daniel Hunter, a very familiar face at the Lighthouse Theatre, is completing a bachelor degree in media studies. Additionally, we also have Logan McArthur and Brendan Paul who are both former Macquarie students.
It was a DRAMAC production in 2011 and now you’re bringing it to a much wider audience through the Sydney Fringe Festival, what is the experience like for all of you so far? How different is it from before?
It’s been a long journey, but also very rewarding. We first staged the show in October 2011 with DRAMAC. Only Daniel Hunter and Brendan Paul were in the original production so we’ve basically recast the show. In total, 12 actors have been involved at one time or another, so I can confidently say that the cast we’ve assembled together now is the strongest it’s ever been.
We were very lucky to find Nicholas Richard and Ryan Knight, who come to us from outside Macquarie, and they have really reinvigorated the show. We also performed the show in March this year and from the input we got from audiences and reviewers the script was reworked and is also much improved.
So although it’s taken two years to get to this stage, the show is every bit the better for it. It has been tried and tested, we know it works, so we’re going into the Fringe with a certain level of confidence that we have a quality production to offer audiences.
What does the future have in store for you?
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Pending my untimely death, I’m planning to finish my degree in the next 18 months or so, although I really don’t know what you do with a doctorate in theatre.
I am currently in negotiations with ABC Radio to get a short play on the air either later this year or early next year so I’m hopeful that will get off the ground.
I’m also working on a new stage play, and with perfect conditions it may appear on an independent stage sometime in the middle of next year – it is still very much in the drafting stage so we’ll see how it goes.
Otherwise, I currently co-author a theatre review blog entitled ‘Dinner and a Show’ with Narrow as the Line cast member Sydney Abba, so we’ll be looking to continue that. She’s also my favorite theatre-maker to work with; this is the fourth show we’ve collaborated on, so with any luck she’ll keep putting up with me for another project or two into the future.