Fringe fave delves darker
By Amanda Farrell-Lowl
Nicola Gunn hopes people will leave their expectations at the door. The Australian theatre artist has been lauded for her Fringe performances over the past decade, but nearly four years after her last Victoria appearance — 2007’s The Lost Property Office — Gunn is returning with a show quite unlike any other she’s performed before. At the Sans Hotel is a darker and more personal story.
“It’s the first show that I’ve made where I’ll almost admit that it might be autobiographical — almost admit,” says Gunn. “I think I’m exposing more of myself in this work.”
Sans draws from the story of Cornelia Rau, a German-born woman living in Australia who suffered from schizophrenia. “I don’t really know anything about her life — I guess that’s what is interesting, that nobody really knows — but in her late 30s, something happened. She went off her rails and disappeared into the desert,” says Gunn, who first read of Rau’s plight in 2004. “Nobody was looking for her; no one knew she was missing. Some months later, she turned up in a detention centre for illegal immigrants and no one diagnosed her mental illness.”
Gunn gravitated towards the story because it reflected what was going on in her life at the time, she says. “I was in a very dark place and lost as well. I think the stories coincided,” she says. “I was running away as well, running away to Canada because I had a mental breakdown. So it’s quite funny.”
Well, maybe not so much ha-ha funny. True, Gunn is known for her ability to bring a touch of humour to even the most harrowing tales, but she cautions audiences familiar with her previous work to approach it with an open mind.
“I think a lot of people expected a certain type of work,” she says of her recent performances in Toronto. “I even read some pre-press, which I found amusing, people saying, ‘Expect some great physical theatre and comedy.’ It’s like oh well, they’re not getting that . . . I find it remarkable that you can be pigeon-holed so easily. Making work is a very fluid process.”
Gunn feels that Sans — which has garnered much critical praise in her native Australia and Toronto — is representative of the work she wants to do as a theatre artist, and coming to terms with that made the creative process a lengthy and difficult birth.
“I was maybe at a point in my development as an artist where I was changing directions a bit and it took a few years for me to realise that,” she says. “It’s a difficult thing to admit. I think I was still trying to make work in a style that I wasn’t interested in anymore. It’s what audiences liked, but I wanted to make something different . . . something that was authentic and genuine.”
And really, what more could one want? M