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The Darlinghurst Theatre’s new production ‘Small Mouth Sounds’ loudly illustrates the problem with speaking your mind when you’ve taken a vow of silence.
Amber McMahon and Sharon Millerchip star in Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Australian premiere production of SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS, a play by Drama Desk Award winner Bess Wohl.
Small Mouth Sounds was the 2016 Critics Pick of The New York Times, New York Magazine and Time Out New York. Jo Turner directs this uplifting comedy about six people who escape city life to embark on a silent retreat. All the characters take a vow of silence, which collides with their achingly human need to connect. How do you speak your mind when you’re forbidden to say a word? How do we address life’s biggest questions when words fail us? Hilarious and profound, much of this play adopts a nuanced and captivating approach to storytelling through the power of gesture.
Performing alongside Sharon Millerchip and Amber McMahon are Yalin Ozucelik, Jane Phegan, Justin Smith and Dorje Swallow.
Director Jo Turner lauds the talent around him, claiming that he just needs to “…add water. With a cast of the quality we have assembled, a group of such open, playful, skilful, creative, delightful people, that’s all I will need to do. Just add water. Maybe a little bit of fertiliser from time to time. Small Mouth Sounds is a unique and beautiful play set in a silent meditation retreat and it’s just this sort of mantra that the retreat’s guru is very fond of. In this case, it’s actually true. This a hugely experienced cast of crowd favourites, who all have the ability to range from comedy to tragedy on the turn of a dime. And most importantly they can do it without words. What I am looking forward to most is not having to work very hard. And laughing. Laughing a lot.”
Amber, can you tell us a bit about what Small Mouths Sounds is about for those who haven’t heard of the play?
Small Mouth Sounds gives us a glimpse into a five-day silent meditation. Six lost souls, each struggling with their own inner turmoil, find themselves bunkered down together to contemplate, take refuge and heal. However, although it starts as a solo journey, they must share the experience with strangers, and unusual connections are made despite the vulnerabilities and the vow of silence.
What do you hope audiences learn about your character?
This play elicits a different experience for the audience to a conventional text-based show, so it’s not really about the linear journey of learning about the characters, but more like just sitting with them for an hour and a half. The audience observes six very different characters and will interpret their non-verbal behaviour differently, as there’s no text to clarify explicitly what’s going on. So, I can only hope audiences empathise with Alicia. There are no finite answers in this play, just provocations and the space to contemplate them.
Have you ever personally committed time to a meditation retreat? How did you cope?
I have never done a silent meditation for more than a day. I have a pretty noisy mind and so I find it quite difficult to meditate, unless it’s guided. But I like to spend time on my own to distil thoughts. I also use running, yoga and ballet as a sort of meditation because it’s all about breath and focussed energy.
What have you learnt about yourself while performing this season?
I think what I’ve learned about myself during this project is how porous I am to the world of the play. It’s hard not to be affected by the strange spell this play casts, and when you sit inside these characters, you really sit with their trauma and anxieties and it can leave you feeling pretty sideways for most of the day.
But what’s helpful is finding the contrasts between yourself and the character so it’s taught me to analyse my own support structures and thought processes. It’s also reminded me of the difficulty of putting feelings into words sometimes, and of the beautiful instinct, humans have of reading people on an emotional level and connecting in different ways.
Amber McMahon trained at Flinders University Drama Centre and was a recipient of the Adele Koh Scholarship to study at the Stella Adler Company & SITI Company in New York. Amber recently completed her third run of North by Northwest for Kay & McLean Productions. Prior to that, she performed the lead role in STC’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist, returned as Snug in the STC/STCSA remount of The Popular Mechanicals, played the Belvoir stage in Bliss (Malthouse), Atlantis (Windmill), Twelfth Night, and Angels in America, and played two seasons of Malthouse’s Picnic at Hanging Rock at Royal Lyceum Edinburgh and Barbican London. She was also a part of STC’s Actors Company. Most recently she starred in Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Appleton Ladies Potato Race alongside Sharon Millerchip, with whom she is also performing in Small Mouth Sounds at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
Amber’s screen credits include the award-winning feature film Girl Asleep, for which she was nominated for Australian Film Critics Association’s 2017 Best Supporting Actress Award. She has won two Helpmann Awards for Best Supporting Actress for work in School Dance (Windmill) and Girl Asleep.
Small Mouth Sounds is on show at the Darlinghurst Theatre from 3-26 May. Bookings can be made on (02) 8356 9987 or via the Darlinghurst Theatre’s website.