In Warriors, five young people (a warrior princess, a sport-loving young man and his cos-playing sister, a bright student from the country and her very ill sister in hospital) share their dreams and face their fears. Through three non-linear narratives, playwright Hayley Lawson-Smith explores the idea of what being a hero means and is a rare look at how young people relate to death and dying.
HLS: I’m interested in exploring issues faced by young people but not often illustrated onstage, particularly in the context of complex sibling relationships. I’ve always been attracted to non-linear pieces which dip in and out of time, space and worlds, and how such stories can be utilised to create meaningful performances. It’s important to engage audiences in discussions surrounding illness and death, and that young people should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard in such a conversation.
Most of the stories presented in Warriors have some personal connection to Lawson-Smith, with her story on Zordana the warrior coming from years of ‘research’.
HLS: The stories set in our ‘real world’ are driven by events close to our personal, lived-experiences. The research done to create the character and world of Zordana was undertaken way back in the ’90s, when I was a kid binge-watching movies such as Labyrinth, The Never Ending Story, Xena: Warrior Princess, Willow and The Dark Crystal, and reading JRR Tolkien while hungry for more sword-wielding female characters.
Mary, who plays Zordana was immediately drawn to the strong character traits she possessed. “Ever since I was a child I’ve loved to write, and often I would create fantasy stories about brave warrior princesses embarking on wonderful adventures. I recognized Zordana as the hero I loved to write about, and I immediately knew this was the play for me. The story of Warriors also captured my imagination as a long-time fan of The Neverending Story. I thought Warriors had the same kind of vivid fantasy that I adored in my favourite film and I straightaway fell in love with it.”
The same sentiments are shared by Isabella who plays Belinda, the ‘unsung hero’. “I was attracted to Warriors as I had been having trouble finding a strong female character my age that I could relate to or that had an interesting complexity. The role is a great reminder that not all heroes are obvious. I thought it was a great contrast to the rest of the characters in the play who are clearly very brave and tough whereas the ‘warrior’ in Belinda is more subtle. It’s great when as an actor you have so many possible ways to explore your character and their depth.”
Lawson-Smith has had the fortune of performing this work around the world, including high schools in America, with the stories resonating with the students.
HLS: The responses from other theatre companies and school groups performing the piece have been very positive. I have seen them enthusiastically explore the story, and heard about their development processes while working on the script; it seems to be a script which speaks to them and I’m glad for that. Audiences are moved by the plights and triumphs of the characters, and the tension and emotion in the room as people witness the journeys unfolding is palpable. There has always been at least one audience member in each production who has told the director or myself how engrossed they’ve been by the play.
Fellow cast member Michael, has also felt the emotion behind his character Peter. ”I was immediately drawn to his sarcastic tone and his efforts to fight his way through high school. However it was the depth to his character, and the caring relationship toward his sister Maddie that made me want to play the role of Peter. These traits provided some interesting dynamics to explore when developing my character.”
Despite the young cast and being shown in high schools, Lawson-Smith stresses that this is still just as much a show for adults as it is children.
HLS: While this is a show about children and teenagers, it is still a play that adults will not only enjoy, but be moved by. We were all teenagers once, and these actors are a part of the next generation of Melbourne theatre-makers. They’re presenting issues faced by all people, regardless of age, and I hope Warriors does justice to the experiences of many in our community.
Read more about Warriors here.