From Wake in Fright to Killing Ground. From Razorback to Wolf Creek, Australia has had a long and bloody love affair with horror movies set in the bush.
For every “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next” enticement for overseas tourists, there seems to be a film promising pure terror, a gory end and a shallow grave.
“The nature of our country is that it’s built on the edges and within the safety of the cities,” says Julian Louis, artistic director of Lismore’s Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) and director of a new production, Wildskin, that draws on the tropes of the Aussie bush horror film.
“There’s something in the drama and magnitude of our Australian bush. It’s something non-indigenous people know so little about. It’s a mystery. And I think it’s a place where you can find yourself quiet and alone, in your thoughts. You hear nature and see things happening that are not human. It makes you think about how much of an animal are we? What is the animal in me?”
Highly physical in its approach to storytelling, Wildskin tells of a woman called Eva, who hits the open road in the hope that it will soothe her broken heart and soul.
“It’s like any good journey, you don’t know what you are going to learn about yourself along the way,” says Louis. “Eva goes out there on her own, meets a lot of different characters and finds herself in strange encounters and dangerous situations alone on the road in the middle of nowhere.”
Dangerous situations? Like running into Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek dangerous?
“We’re inspired by the horror genre but we’re re-imagining it in a really fun way,” Louis says. “We play with all the expectations that have been set up by narratives of backpacker murders or films like Wake in Fright but then take the audience to a surprising place with it. Wildskin is Eva going into herself to discover a wilder self.”
The story has been collaboratively devised between Julian Louis, writer Hattie Dalton, writer-dramaturg Janis Balodis, movement director Darcy Grant and the production’s all-female cast: Viviane Frehner, Bianca Mackail, Katia Molino, Olivia Porter and Nicci Wilks.
“It’s great being on stage with four other women, it’s fantastic,” says Wilks, a Melbourne-based actor and physical theatre performer making her NORPA debut in Wildskin. “This story is about a woman and we get to explore situations that a woman can find herself in. It’s been really pleasurable to share our ideas and figure out how to put them on stage.
“And the horror element is fantastic, too. It’s much harder to scare people in the theatre than it is in film but we’re totally up for the challenge,” Wilks says. “It can also get quite sad at times, about things like relationships and mothering. It has so many different moods.”
Eva’s adventure is paralleled by an adventurousness in the way her story unfolds. Wildskin is anything but middle-of-the-road.
“We didn’t want to make something that would be like you would see in a movie or on TV,” says Louis. “Theatre is about the imagination and the audience getting on board with the theatrical concepts. So, for example, we have five women in the cast and they are playing a lot of characters, some of them are men – some of them are men you wouldn’t want to meet on the road. They are having a lot of fun with that.
“There are scenes and there is a journey but we are mixing the forms of physical theatre and even dance,” he adds. “There are sections of the piece that take us out of the mind and into the body, into the animal. It’s really playful and powerful and joyous, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”
There will also be a car on stage, Louis says, and not any old car.
“I can’t wait for audiences to experience it. It’s sculptural and skeletal, burnt out and it breaks apart and spins and transforms. It’s going to be quite a spectacle.”
Wildskin plays at NORPA, Lismore City Hall from September 28-October 6.