The Motion of Light in Water - Science fiction has you thinking | REVIEW

Laura Maitland as Marilyn in The Motion of Light in Water.

Laura Maitland as Marilyn in The Motion of Light in Water.

THE opening night of any production is always filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Cast and crew are hoping beyond hope all goes well; theatre-goers, curious and keen, will be paying close attention to every line, demanding to be whisked away by the magic of storytelling.

In the case of The Motion of Light in Water at the Butter Factory Theatre on Tuesday, this wasn’t just any opening night — it was the world premiere of a new work, being tried and tested on an Albury-Wodonga audience.

From the opening scenes of a brilliant red sun glaring out to the audience, it delivers, transporting us to other worlds and challenging perceptions of how we live.

Playwright and director Marcel Dorney, and his team from independent theatre company Elbow Room Productions, use the life and work of sci-fi writer Samuel R Delany to tell his story.

It opens with “Chip” and his wife-to-be Marilyn — played beautifully by Ray Chong Nee and Laura Maitland — travelling to somewhere they are allowed to be married.

It’s 1960 and Chip is a black man, Marilyn a white woman, giving us the first of many social issues to be explored.

We follow them through their life together in 1960s New York, where Chip balances his married life with his interest in men, and struggles to complete his book, one of his most famous works, Babel-17.

Enter the parallel narrative of Babel, where his heroine Rydra Wong is saving the world from a language that can be used as a weapon.

In these scenes the simple stage setting is transformed through clever lighting and sound design into a spaceship, powered by the romantic entanglements of its crew.

The costuming here can seem kind of naff, but remember this was the era of Thunderbirds; it’s what “the future” was supposed to look like.

The sci-fi talk can get kind of heavy, even tough.

It’s tempered by the treatment of Delany’s real life narrative back in New York, and it is quickly apparent the two storylines are almost one and the same; Delany can’t write Babel-17 without experiencing the tensions and drama of his real life.

The subject matter will in parts be challenging, even confronting, for some, but that is what good theatre should do, forcing us to consider and discuss new ideas.

Technically, the stagecraft is almost perfect and the cast handle their multiple character changes seamlessly, sometimes right before our eyes.

This production reminds us how lucky we are to have the Hothouse Theatre, willing to take the bold step of bringing new work to the stage.

The play will run until Saturday.