Iain Sinclair: What can you learn

I first encountered director Iain Sinclair in Griffin’s 2005 production. It was indoctrinated into us by head-acting-teacher-at-the-time, Kevin Jackson, that if we didn’t take our last $4.75 and use it to schlep into Kings Cross on a school night for the consumption of art at the expense of a hot meal……then, in his eyes, we were shit humans and not worthy of the craft.

My mate and me were not up for going to the theatre that evening. I was deep in the first-year Mickey-Mouse assessment called “The Sleeping Partner Exercise”, which I was learning about the significance of Lear at the time. My mate was in Chekhov-land, second year. He and the other 22-year olds were twirling their moustaches and reading vain lines about the Samovar.

We were young, serious men. Our minds were elsewhere.

But then, something happened. It was David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, a hilarious script. The show was electrifying. We all sat up in chairs. We didn’t understand why. It was not obvious or radical to make directorial choices. There was no dramatic re-imagining or abstract movement sequences. And not one person spat faeces on a perspex box enclosure. There was not one. The show was tense and elemental, and the actors interacted in a way that was unlike any other interplay I had seen. It was impossible to see what was so extraordinary that night. The play was the direction, not the direction.

That’s Iain for me.

Now, many years later, with many kilos and a hairline that reminds me of Bruce Willis’s last outings in Die Hard, I have been blessed to be inside the Iain Sinclair machine many, many times. I can remember exactly why I felt that way watching Hurlyburly at Stables that night and every Iain’s production since.

Iain’s approach is the perfect blend of modern and old. His work is menacing and savage. It’s also tender and unpredictable. But it’s also grounded in an old-school technique. Iain understands that the text is a system, which is made up of smaller mechanisms that allow him to unlock the key that will enable him to deliver the play he loves most. He is especially skilled when working with greats. He is, more often than not. Iain doesn’t deliver his ego. He delivers great plays. Regularly.

So. So.

It is a respect for every word on the page. It is an instinctive understanding of genre. It is his preference for purity and restraint rather than excess. He grills Australian actors about their ability to take every important piece of text and render it insignificant by dropping out at the end. Iain finds this a problem, especially with American drama. Because Americans tend to finish their sentences. Of course, we often don’t. He calls it ‘Falling tone’ and they are used throughout Iain Sinclair’s notes sessions. They’re inevitably shortened into the acronym FT (and it really does sting once that acronym is introduced). This is what I do – I am a disapproving, stoic country boy. I don’t believe there is an actor who, after working with Iain’s, doesn’t wake up in middle of the night covered in white sweat and muttering “falling tone” like a poor person with a disorder.

Iain won’t let you down. He will drill and drill you, until you give him the text.
Now, if this kind of firm directorial ownership of the text is starting to sound a little overbearing……well, perhaps it’s not for you. This level of scrutiny takes a show from being’strong’ to transcendent. It can sometimes be mathematical in its approach but it can also have a bone-shattering effect.

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