Backstage

TW Talks Tuesday: An Interview with Rebecca Meston

Inspired by true events, playwright Rebecca Meston, has written a tale of loss and heartbreak set to a backdrop of time and space.

Drive is a play that was inspired by former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, who in 2007 drove from Houston to Orlando to confront her ex-lover’s lover and supposed attempt to kidnap her. Five months before this event she had been up in space on a mission.

Meston was gripped by the crime at the time, but it wasn’t until 10 years later, when she was constantly driving across regional SA that she remembered it like a flash.

“Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she says. ” Now with a small child in the back of my car, and driving amidst highways and freeways and long stretches of horizon, I was struck by the more thematic elements of the story, like how big the world is, and how incredibly small. How completely capable and driven you can be when the stakes are so high, but you’re also feeling lost, or grief-stricken, or heartbroken.”

“Looking out at the road there was this immediate sense of “I can’t look away now. I can’t get distracted. Or seek to be distracted. Yes there may be a banger of a song on the radio and I’ll go into memory, or fantasy, or a conversation I wish could happen, but ultimately, at the eleventh hour of this drive, I will have to face it. Face myself.‘”

While the show is about an astronaut and an otherworldly backdrop, it’s really about loss, heartbreak, the end of a marriage, a long-term relationship. In an epic way. Meston explains that the show charts a 14-hour trip through space and time, in the back seat of our heroine’s car, memory and fantasy come and go like a dark, otherworldly version of Taxicab Confessions.

Meston goes on to say that beyond the location and Americana of it all, is a 14-hour unravelling of a highly capable woman; filled with mess, nuance, and controlled rage. How does this happen? What does a complex unravelling of an inner-life look like? Bringing it back to the here and now, the relevant themes explored include:

  • How a woman so at the top of her game, with a family and a 19-year marriage, can fall so spectacularly apart?
  • How we often use this old adage “the truth will set you free”, but what is the actual process of getting free? What do you have to go through first? Is it a dark 14-hour drive of the soul made through the middle of a rainy night?
  • How close are any of us, at any time, to snapping? To getting into a car and not looking back? Do we in fact all have 10 per cent of Lisa Nowak in us somewhere?
  • When you put your distractions aside, your double screening, your social media, your Game of Thrones addiction, all the stuff that helps you look away, and properly face yourself, what happens?

The engrossing work took approximately two years of work from initial concept to completed work.  A first stage development, as part of Vitalstatistix’ ‘Incubator’ residency, was done in May, 2017. Meston then worked on it with dramaturg Saffron Benner, as part of ‘A Month in the Country’ at Hothouse, and then, in 2018, it went through an inSPACE development with a packed out showing. Meston and team have now spent four weeks rehearsing and it’s primed and ready.

Meston confesses that one of the challenges of getting Drive to performance stage was in explaining the idea in one or two quick sentences.

“The form of the show – road theatre – and that audiences are basically going on a drive from A to B over 50 minutes – isn’t a style we regularly see on stages,” says Meston. “We have road movies, Thelma and Louise, Death Proof, etc, but what does road theatre look like and feel like? What are its conventions? How do you abstract a car? All brilliant creative challenges.”

Meston acknowledges that the joys, on the other hand, was making this very style of work, and with a story that explores the more complex and nuanced elements of what it feels like to be human. “And working with an extraordinary team of artists who care deeply about making new work, and who are all exceptionally good at bringing new Australian work to life,” she says.

Research was a big part of Meston’s journey with two years devoted to researching the world of astronauts, NASA, space travel and what it takes to get there. In that time,  Metson’s insight into the world and mind of her lead character, Stella, heightened making writing her a little easier.

“When it came to writing the show, it all just poured out of me,” she says. “Maybe “easier” is the wrong response. It was still really hard too, Stella is a tricky character and not exactly the easiest person to spend time with. “

“She is going through great loss while in a sense coping, or treating her car drive like a mission into space. No it didn’t end well, but she was highly functional. I relate to this, as I’m sure a lot of audiences will. We don’t all fall apart and become immobilised during loss and grief. Some of us do the exact opposite. I felt I knew my material very well, as opposed to her being “easier to write’”.

As a playwright, Meston cares about finding the genre that serves the story. Whether it’s cabaret, stand-up, direct address, a punk rock musical, a five-hour durational public performance. “Growing up, when my mum was angry at me when I’d have a friend over, she’d sometimes whisper in my ear, “When I get you behind closed doors, WOE BETIDE!!” (she’s English)”

It’s precisely this that interests her. The behind-closed-doors of a character. The hard parts of a character. Not the one smiling broadly, and waving goodbye to said friend. The one who closes the door, turns and shows the mess, the anger and all that’s been temporarily flattened out for public display.

“There is a British/Nordic detective series called Marcella with Anna Friel which I found so intriguing in the making of this work,” explains Meston. “The character of Marcella is not immediately likeable, but you are with her, care about her, are on her side, from the beginning because of her richly drawn, nuanced character who is neither maiden, mother or crone. The storytellers I like best include Patricia Cornelius, Kate Mulvany, Bryony Kimmings, Clare Barron, Jeanette Winterson, Barbara Trapdio and my late friend, poet Hima Raza.”

Next on the list for Meston is the making of Hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s – an intimate cabaret with a live choir, which aims to reimagine the mythology of Australian rock music from a female perspective.

Meston explains that it will feature a rambling house party come front bar of an Australian pub, complete with garish, swirly carpet that sticks to your feet and reeks of stale beer and cigarettes.

But for now, Meston’s focus is Drive – a work that aims to be brutal, funny, aware of itself as theatre and profoundly moving.

As the show charts a 14-hour trip through space and time, in the back seat of our heroine’s car, memory and fantasy come and go like a dark, otherworldly version of Taxicab Confessions. Urgent and immediate, Drive tells the stories you will never read about on your Instagram feed, but to which your heart will explosively relate.

 

Read more about Drive here: www.theatreworks.org.au/program/drive/

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