Bob loves roses. They are his pride and joy; over weekends and in retirement he has tended them lovingly. They say a lot about him, and because of the way that Andrew writes – telescoping from the intimate and personal to the universal – they say a lot about Australia. As the play unfolds we track the passage of time over the seasonal changes of the rose bushes, from full bloom in summer where the play begins, through autumn, winter, into spring and turning full circle back to summer; a whole year in the life of the Price family in Hallett Cove. In our Belvoir backyard where the garden has been stripped back to a singular visual gesture the four roses bushes correlate to each of the four Price children, linking the seasonal changes with their stories.
Of course there was discussion about what colour the roses should be. Red was wrong – too much of Valentine’s Day and Carmen, white too much of weddings and funerals. In the end pink was chosen for personal reasons – the Queen Elizabeth hybrid grew outside my sisters’ bedroom at home, and Neil has it growing too. And as I started looking over people’s fences during the design process, I came to understand how much it is a standard of the Australian gardener. I also liked the way pantyhose are used as stake ties.
A lot can happen in a year, and our four rose bushes needed to do a lot: going from full flowering, stripped back to pruned winter bareness, then bursting back in bud and full bloom. Neil and I talked about the changes, feeling that the cast needed to be able to physically transform the rose bushes themselves within the transitions between the seasonal movements. We needed a skilled props maker to problem-solve the technicalities of each change. Simon Macgyver developed a prototype which was run through its paces in the rehearsal room to explore the physical language of the transitions, and to devise a system that the cast could manage easily and would survive a (theatre) season. Back in his workshop he added more detail: the texture of old and new growth, the expressive pruned knuckle at the end of the stem, thorns. It’s all fake, but by the time he’s finished won’t look it.
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