The spine of the plot is essentially that a body is seen floating offshore, though no-one is certain if what they see is real because the body never washes up on the shore. Various theories abound about who/what the body might be. Intermittent, uncanny sounds in the area create an the unsettling atmosphere, and in the tradition of sirens which lure sailors to their deaths, these 'songs of the sea' further disturb both residents and visitors alike.
Through the mystery at the heart of the story, various townsfolk are brought together, who may never have otherwise had much contact with one another. The characters Arianna and Juno, for instance, serve a contrapuntal purpose in the play (like Yin & Yang): one an artist, who thinks of the metaphysical dimensions of life; the other a scienticist with a drive to understand life through 'facts' and reason. Indeed, the polarities in the play are also enacted through scenes depicting past (with characters Colonel Light, Charlie Bradley and Maria Gandy) and present (with Arianna, Juno, Jake, the tourist family with the three young girls, etc) - though a third dimension which is referred to as 'universal time' brings together these two otherwise distinct time periods. In universal time, characters from the past intrude on the present to comment on the action and/or interact with those who live in the present. This is one way of highlighting the way the 'settler' history of the area continues to shape the present-day communities, especially in rural towns.
The script of Songs of the Sea came alive yesterday, during the first play reading with the whole cast. Elida Meadows' lavishly descriptive poem Currarong, March 2002 is the opening verbal motif of the first scene. As Martin Esslin suggests in The Field of Drama (1987):
If... the opening words of the play are spoken in highly poetic language or verse, this sets the 'key' in
which the whole play, or at least that scene, is to be taken by the audience; and... the verse-metre or
linguistic style of the dialogue may persist through a whole scene, act or, indeed the entire play. Here,
then, the level of language, the metre of the verse, tells the spectators that the intention of the play
is serious and that the action is to be read in a specific way. (110)
Songs of the Sea is fundamentally an exploration of our imaginative relationship with the sea. The body could be understood as a signifier for fear: fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of invasion by sea and so on; the sea itself could be viewed as the cosmic womb, the emotional landscape of the collective consciousness and so on. Indeed, like all good drama, it is 'multivalent' - i.e. it means 'different things to different individuals at any given moment' (Esslin, 1987: 168). Drama mirrors life but like life it is impossible to determine the specific meaning of any experience; in the present, particular import may be attributed to an event, that will not mean the same thing in the future (Esslin, 1987: 170). In one scene, characters Maria Gandy and Charlie Bradley directly muse on the meaning of life, without coming to any conclusions, begging the questions of fate versus predestination, or Darwinism versus Creationism perhaps. Ultimately, the characters can only speak for themselves and it will be up to the audience to decide how they interpret the text when it is enacted for them on the stage.
Songs of the Sea will be in public performance next year in Second Valley - opposite Leonard's Mill.
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