Aurora Calling: Review

A friendship sustained from poles apart

 Review by Georgina Luck


 ‘Aurora Calling-The Result of a Joint Observation’ by Catherine Ryan

Produced by Tiffany Raae and Directed by Jason Shorter

If I press my fingers harder on my keyboard, can I get closer to you?

Inspired by a true story, Aurora Calling is a beautifully written script that cycles a year in the lives of two female physicists – one in Alaska, the other in Antarctica – who are observing the stunning auroras. The only females in their respective expeditions, Trisha and Jackie are studying the aurora in mirror image. They maintain their friendship via email. The play dramatizes how, through their friendship, Trisha and Jackie support each other through the difficulties of isolation and the pressure to publish, while sustaining their scientific passion. Observing the beauty of the lights, armed with their temperamental ‘spectatroms’, they face the same question: can an aurora ever be truly quantified, observed or explained?

It is always enjoyable to experience theatre when its creative team obviously loves the script, and this is apparent in every aspect of the production. Clearly, the actors relish the script’s poetry; the direction draws out much of the writing’s comic and dramatic potential; the lighting, sound and set designs transport us to the icy landscape from the moment we enter the theatre space.

Actors Tiffany Raae and Sally Armstrong bring real warmth and complexity to their characters and I felt emotionally involved in their journey from the start. Their dialogue is complemented by some lovely moments of physical tenderness – at one stage Jackie takes off her jacket and puts it on Trisha’s cold shoulders, while in another scene the two women lean back to back against the white wall in simulated sleep. The actors convey the highs and lows of the friendship without ever becoming melodramatic. It is also refreshing to see depicted a female friendship that includes conflict without cattiness.

Originally conceived as a stage performance ‘Aurora Calling’ was adapted for an ABC Radio National Drama production in 2008. This Radio script won an AWGIE for Best Radio Adaptation. In transforming the drama for theatre, the director effectively uses music, movement and sound effects to complement the shifts in the women’s relationship. There is even some singing and dancing; I feel, however, that the script alone and the performances already create adequate nuance and colour. Having said that the song sequences do add extra energy and comedy. A third voice briefly enters the narrative towards the end of the play in a moment that is very moving.

Aurora Calling is a celebration of the strength of female friendship, the aurora’s beauty, and passionate scientific minds. It was inspiring to watch the team bring a memorable script to life for a new audience to enjoy.

Georgina Luck’s short stories have been published in various literary journals and she received the 2009 Griffith REVIEW/Text Publishing Award. She has won two playwriting awards and has received two Varuna Fellowships as well as an Australian Society of Authors mentorship.