TW Talks Tuesday: An Interview With John Kachoyan

After a critically acclaimed season at the 2016 Midsumma Festival, Lab Kelpie is bringing Douglas Rintoul’s Elegy back for a strictly limited season. Exploring issues of displacement, acceptance, homosexuality and identity, this one-man play is a poetic look at the struggles and threats that asylum seekers face.

John Kachoyan returns to direct this absorbing drama and is thrilled at the opportunity to do so for a story that has resonated with him so deeply.

JK: It’s such a pleasure to be able to work on Elegy, to share it again and to know that a larger and more diverse audience will get to see it. I was initially drawn to the sheer humanity of the haunting, lyrical script – it’s a love story and a loss story. These are stories we simply weren’t – and still aren’t – hearing about both LGBTQI people persecuted in their homeland and about asylum seekers thrust into the chaos of a world increasingly hostile to them because of this persecution. The intersection of those two spurned groups really struck me.

The design in Elegy plays an integral role in capturing the isolation, loneliness and heartbreak of this story, as well as its beauty and the hope that can be realised from it. It is as much a character of the story as the protagonist and with Russell Goldsmith’s composition and sound and Rob Sowinksi and Bryn Cullen’s set and lighting, these elements seamlessly blend together to create an evocative atmosphere.

JK: Lab Kelpie worked so hard to gather the creative team for a workshop series a few months out from our premiere. It was a fantastic process and an invaluable opportunity to have all the artists in the one room, exploring the work before a formal rehearsal process. Everyone in that room contributed so much to making this show. It’s exactly how I like to work, and Rob, Russell and Bryn have made a beautiful piece from that.

While the creative team remains the same, a noticeable absence is actor Nick Simpson-Deeks from this remount, with the role now being taken over by stage and TV performer Gareth Reeves. Being a play of such intimate nature, where how the story is told is vital to its success has made Kachoyan take a different approach in directing this time round.

JK: While we sadly lost Nick to Bell Shakespeare, we have cast the brilliant Gareth to the role. Rebuilding a one-person show is a challenge to be sure but our beautiful design structures will support us in this process and it has allowed Gareth and I to rediscover the story together.

The casting of a white Australian male to play a gay refugee is not lost on Kachoyan, and the team specifically chose to cast this way for a reason.

JK: The Producers didn’t want the piece to be able to sit at a safe distance as the story of the ‘other’ or for us to borrow a cultural or experiential heritage we didn’t have ourselves. It’s definitely something we’ve grappled with and worked with different groups and communities on but this piece currently hits certain audiences (those perhaps less open or aware of these issues) harder because of this element but hopefully there will be other actors playing the part in future tours.

While it’s been over two years since the work was performed in Melbourne, the themes explored in Elegy are still timely and urgent.

JK: Sadly, this type of work does need to be staged. That these problems haven’t disappeared in those two years (maybe they’ve just faded from our immediate view) is all the more reason to remember that queer and asylum seeker rights are being violated all around the world. Touching audiences with a lyrical story such as Elegy can be very powerful to raise awareness and action in people.


Read more about Elegy here.

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