Adapted from Peter Goldworthy’s novel of the same name by actor, writer and director Humphrey Bower, the play Wish concerns the relationship between a sign language teacher and one very special student. We spoke to Leon Ewing, who provides the musical accompaniment to the performance.
While there are only two actors in the play, there are three people on stage during the performance of Wish, with the third being accomplished musician Leon Ewing. His task is to improvise a live soundtrack to the dramatic action of the piece, a job he finds both challenging and rewarding.
“It’s a style of performance that is based very much in storytelling and I accompany the performance just playing an acoustic guitar in the space,” he explains to us. “So it’s three performers on stage, very stripped back, very intimate, very minimal. Originally it was performed in The Blue Room Theatre, which is a very small, intimate space. It’ll be interesting to see how it translates at the Studio Underground in the State Theatre Centre. In the original performance, the audience was almost in the round surrounding the performers and that won’t be the case this time. So it’ll be different, but still a very different, very personal story. A lot of it is like a conversation with the audience.” Interestingly, seeing as the play is heavily centred on signing as a form of communication, many of the play’s key speeches are also delivered in Auslan.
Ewing also worked on the first production of the play. “Pretty much the first time we performed the work, it was Humphrey adapting the script from the Peter Goldsworthy novel, so he was working on a new adaptation which was constantly evolving in the rehearsal process. I would be in the room quite often just jamming with Humphrey. The thing I quite enjoyed about it is that it was like jamming with another musician, but that musician or that instrument happens to be an actor. So there’s a lot of push and pull between where the voice sits. The music really lifts and adds a lot of emotion and atmosphere. We worked out the cue points – specific points where we thought the music would work or where we needed to create a mood or a shift of space and then I would arrive on a key or a tone that I’d want to set in the scene. And I would be improvising around those chord progressions.”
Although his work is integral to the play, Ewing recognises that his job is to create a kind of aural scenery for the performance. “The really difficult thing about it is, ideally as a performer and a musician, you need to be invisible. While the audience is feeling and responding to your music, they’re not really aware that you’re there. So I kind of have to sit there and push focus – kind of like you do with puppetry, really, where you push focus at a puppet, the audience is watching the puppet and you become invisible. I’m doing that with music. If I get it right, nobody notices, but as soon as I fuck up, it’s very apparent!”
Wish runs at the State Theatre Centre from May 14 – 24. For tickets and session times, go to