Director’s Note: Damien Ryan, MR BAILEY’S MINDER
Desperate people, clinging to a cliff face, trying to make a family work – a family not just made of blood, but of necessity and random chance – a daughter, a carer, a local builder, and a visionary artist – and the ghosts of the wounded that surround and haunt them. This story by the brilliant Deb Oswald, is as much about love and finding justice in love, as it is about art or addiction or seeking retribution for hurt. It asks us how families – in all their myriad forms – negotiate the life-long challenge of loving each other. And the play asks us why and how, at the end of that process, so many of us wind up living with and dying in the hands of strangers.
Leo Bailey’s art makes the ordinary extraordinary, bringing mysterious light to the unseen in his paintings while bringing mostly darkness to the real world he inhabits. How often does history record geniuses and visionaries who are revered for their work, their ‘art’, while being reviled for what they squander? So often great artists can see and feel beyond the rest of us while conversely being devoid of human empathy. Leo brings to mind Prometheus, chained to a rock face in the Caucasus mountains for daring to bring fire and creative spark to a human race whose hubris and vanity would approach that of the Gods. He is forced to endure the birds who come to tear out and destroy his liver every day, only for it to regrow and be destroyed again tomorrow. Suffering dementia, hailing down abuse and agony at the human race and the world, Leo shares Prometheus’ loneliness, his terror and his emptiness, all of which are the price of his great gift. This domestic story, set in a tiny room, is vast in its scale of character and ideas.
The play, in its eighth day of rehearsal today, feels like it’s very much about the transferral of power too. We’ve spoken a lot about authority and status and control, about debts and balance sheets between people. About how we belong and what belongs to us. And the shifting dynamic of the situation on stage – how to manage a dying parent’s life; how a demented king divides his kingdom as he crawls toward death – is unfortunately one that most children and parents will go through eventually, though hopefully with less struggle than the stranded people in this ramshackle, precarious home.
The home itself, like Leo’s skin and organs, is eating itself away, rotting. All protective layers are becoming porous – walls, floor, ceiling, paintwork, family, law, safety, security – and perhaps they have to. To rebuild, there is so much to be washed away, rinsed and cleansed first.
But the play is called MR BAILEY’S MINDER and at its core we are left to consider who that Minder truly is. Two remarkable women, of wildly different experience and accomplishment, are both battling the tension between loyal commitment and abject failure in the face of a huge responsibility. One is loyally enduring the days and nights at the rock face; the other has endured a lifetime of it yet has never physically walked away, despite long since burying her emotional connection to her father somewhere beneath the rocks to protect herself. In the end, what are we willing to forgive? Can anything rekindle love when the fire is out?
It is a beautiful play and a beautiful cast and creative team to work with. And it has been a joy and a privilege to have Deb Oswald with us in the room at times. Australian theatre should treasure such an artist.
Playing 28 Jul – 2 Sep, don’t miss Debra Oswald’s poignant and funny portrait of what it takes to forgive and let go.