‘swim’ by Ellen van Neerven opening in July at Carriageworks

‘swim’ by Ellen van Neerven opening in July at Carriageworks
Image: Dani Sibosado for 'swim'. Credit: Brett Boardman

In its first production outside of its Darlinghurst home, Griffin Theatre is staging swim in the intimate space of Track 8 at Carriageworks.

swim is from the pen of award winning Mununjali writer Ellen van Neerven (Heat and Light) and is their debut work for the stage.

Using water as a metaphor for the gender fluidity of E, the protagonist, they find that they must navigate the space between the male and female change rooms while showing off in front of pool attendants.

When E fronts the blocks, suddenly words from deep within their culture and the water begin to swirl and the lane ahead is not so clear.

“I first started writing the play in 2017 and imagined the character as a young Aboriginal queer person growing up in the outer suburbs of a city,” Ellen van Neerven, playwright said.

“Finding the language was very easy – it is a belonging.”

A small cast

With a cast of two, it is a big ask for Dani Sibosado and Sandy Greenwood, both Indigenous actors to front this new text.

Particularly Sibosado (Bran New Dae), who grew up singing in Broome as part of the legendary Pigram Brothers family of performers.

This is their first time on the stage in a dramatic role.

“Coming from a musical background and because of the poetic element in the script it is a lot easier for me to get into the rhythm and the few of the scenes,” Dani Sibosado said.

“It’s a huge piece and I love Ellen’s writing and there is a lot of text, and as the person carrying the show it feels a bit daunting sometimes, but because of the poetic element it feels more approachable to me.”

The learning curve was also felt by van Neerven when they said: “Writing for the stage is another process altogether.

“I have come at this very new and green, (and) it took years of soaking up experiences and going to shows, reading scripts, working with collaborators on various developments.”

Directing swim is Yorta Yorta woman and Griffin’s associate artistic director Andrea James, who had major success with the company’s production of Suzie Miller’s Jailbaby last year.

“We have a Blak company here, though not everyone is a Blak woman, but to be led by Andrea is really beautiful, and Sandy Greenwood, who is onstage with me, and working with an almost all Blak crew, means that there is a cultural understanding, particularly with some of the content within the play,” Sibosado said.

“We all come from different places, mobs and families across the country, but we discuss those things and find similarities through that.”

swim a promising theatre debut

swim promises to be one of Sydney theatre world’s most anticipated debuts this year, featuring two artists experiencing their firsts on stage, and a new era for Griffin Theatre as it embarks on exploring new spaces around Sydney while their Darlinghurst home undergoes a rebuild.

“This isn’t the first time for me in a lot of different ways, and the Carriageworks space is really cool and it is going one huge,” Sibosado said.

“The set has been designed for the Carriageworks Track 8, and will travel to HOTA (Yumambeh Country-Gold Coast) for Bleach Festival next,” van Neerven said.

“I can’t give anymore information away, but I’m excited. It’s going to be huge.”

swim is at Carriageworks, Track 8, from 10 July to 27 July

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