April 4, 2016

Janice Muller – Director of Lake Disappointment which will see its world premiere at Carriageworks this month – is a Melbourne-based Australian theatre maker. For 2016, she is the Malthouse Theatre’s Female Director in Residence, joining the renowned company’s dramaturgy and programming team, as well as developing her own projects. Muller likes a challenge; her most recent production, The Tribe, took theatre out of “the usual black box” and into backyards of Sydney’s Surry Hills. This April, Muller directs Luke Mullins in Lake Disappointment, a new Australian work written by Mullins and Lachlan Philpott with sound design by James Brown.

CW: Lake Disappointment is about body doubles, Hollywood, narcissism, obsession; what drew you to this project?

MULLER: I read an earlier draft of the script in late 2014 and found it very funny but also creepy – in a good way!  I’ve known both Lachlan and Luke for a long time and was keen to be involved. I immediately liked the tense atmosphere of the writing, the oddness of the character, the murkiness between reality and fiction that it plays with on several levels. It was engaging because of the practical challenge it offered me as a director – what on earth is the character actually doing while he says these words? And how do you make a piece of theatre about the making of a film where the narrator is not always reliable and might not have all the facts. And I guess, the whole subject of narcissism in a media-saturated world is a relevant topic and was intrigued by the way the text looked into that.

What was your primary focus in approaching Lake Disappointment?

Not sure I know what this means…my primary focus is making a great show! And that involves many things at once of course.  It’s about trying to find the best possible journey for the audience with this material. I suppose one of the main focuses is the atmosphere of the show which is very strongly created through the sound design, so working with designer/composer James Brown is at the core of the process.

How has the work developed or changed from the National Play Festival in 2015?

We went to the NPF in the middle of last year and that was a terrific opportunity for us as group to build a relationship around the play, and to revamp the script then actually hear it with audience. In fact, Luke read the play there two nights in a row. We tried different approaches on the two nights and it’s incredibly important to hear text with audience to even know if it works, especially with humorous material. And of course there were plenty of industry people there, other directors and writers, so we got a lot of useful feedback and came away with a tighter play to start take into production.

The title Lake Disappointment is arguably sombre – but the project is a comedy, and you’ve said very funny! How do the two intersect in the play? In life?

I don’t agree that Lake Disappointment sounds sombre actually. I think it sounds funny. I’d like to visit and see what the mood is there! And you know there really is a lake called that we discovered on Google Maps. Our fictional lake is not in Australia though. I’m not sure I want to categorise the play as a comedy or a tragedy – other than to say there are laughs to be had and there’s a complex character at the centre of story who has a few issues!