THEATRE: Play reaches across time

A FRIENDSHIP that began when two men were acting students at the National Institute of Dramatic Art has led to Wollombi’s Valley Artists staging the world premiere of a play called Across the Water.

Wollombi actor-director Bob Philippe obtained a copy of Noel Hodda’s play when it was published last year and his enthusiasm for it was matched by other Valley Artists members.

Across the Water looks at the changes in the relationships of members of an Australian family over 40 years, with the action moving back and forth between the 1950s and 1990s.

The play will open at Laguna Hall, seven kilometres south of Wollombi, on November 1 and run until November 9.

Bob Philippe directs and is one of two actors playing Ken, a World War II veteran whose late-life drift away from his adult children is shown to have its beginnings around the time they were born. 

Philippe is the older Ken, with Dain Southwell as young Ken, Sally Jackson as Ken’s wife Cath, Karen Jones as daughter Sissy, and Darren Philip as son Glen.

Noel Hodda, a Sydney-based actor-writer-director, will see the play on its closing night.

The story’s Glen is a photographer whose world is collapsing. When sister Sissy advises him that their father has disappeared, he reluctantly returns to the family home to meet her, and they are forced to confront their past as they search for him.

The play has a lot of humorous moments, with the older Ken’s battle with sparrows in his garden raising smiles and laughs.

Hodda developed Across the Water over a period of more than eight years. An early draft of the work, then called Later, was chosen as the Australian entry for workshopping at a prestigious playwriting event, the Banff playRites Colony, in Canada in 2004.

Noel Hodda and Bob Philippe were in the same NIDA acting class in the late 1970s.

Hodda, who was raised in Albury and was a founding member of the Riverina Theatre Company before going to NIDA, wrote a play, Half Safe, for the Wagga Wagga-based company.

He has worked as an actor with most major theatre companies in Sydney and has written for television, including episodes in the ABC series GP, as well as several plays. His TV work has included continuing roles in series such as Sons and Daughters and EStreet.

Hodda’s advocacy of Australian works led him to be elected chairman of Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company. He has also served as a script assessor for organisations including the Australia Council for the Arts and the National Playwrights’ Centre.

Noel Hodda has co-written with John Senczuk a musical called A Country Mile, which uses songs by Slim Dusty and Joy McKean. It will premiere at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January.

Across the Water plays at Laguna Hall, Laguna, nightly from Friday, November 1, to Sunday, November 3, then from Wednesday, November 6, to Saturday, November 9. All performances are at 8pm. Tickets: $25. Bookings: Wollombi General Store; Great Northern Trading Post, Laguna;