Subtlenuance is one of those rare companies that continues to contribute to the landscape of Sydney’s independent theatre scene. Most companies start, produce and finish before a significant body of work or practice can be established. This is not the case of subtlenuance – and I can’t help but have the impression that there is a strong intention to continue making – and providing opportunities to young and emerging writers – opportunities that just don’t materialise outside of the tight machinery of larger institutions. And I can’t praise them enough for that – as I firmly believe that it takes an audience to make a writer.

And closed workshops, round table reads, concerned furrowed brows and scratching pencils can only develop a play and a playwright so far. What subtlenuance offers is a platform for growth – for experimentation and for failure. And unerringly, Daniela Giorgi and Paul Gilchrist put forward work – locally and via tours to encourage practical development of artists.

This project sees a slightly different process/brief in place:

“Everyone has childhood stories. They tell us who we were, who we are, and who we can become. With some of Sydney’s most exciting established and emerging artists we’re going to share these treasured tales – tales of humour and wonder, fear and loss. Created directly from the personal experiences of the actors, The Political Hearts of Children is a journey back to the lost land of childhood… What can we retrieve? What must we leave behind?”

This angle is an interesting one, and to a certain degree the works are interesting: but then again when it comes to structured/written autobiography, the work is only as interesting as the view point, and only as dynamic as the writer. The three works which are more compelling in this suite are the stories of Mark Dessaix (written by Katie Pollock), Carla Nirella (written by Kimberly Lipschus) and James Balian (written by James Balian).

Why I have identified these stories is because I felt the performer had something brutal or difficult or penetrating to offer: a story which is more than an emotional catharsis or easy narrative. Stories which feel dangerous in the telling – because often when politics are most powerful it is when something is being risked: reputation. Love. Opinion. The words from these writers fit easily in the mouths of the actors: as a matter of fact. Most powerful was performance by James Balian – a story so simple and clear and comfortable in the telling, I felt compelled to listen. This was no major feat of actorly posturing, or writerly flourish. This was story in its most authentic and robust: robust in that it had survived the years of telling, and had been in an actively practiced memory.

Personal politics is about epic perspective or reasoning and where these particular pieces excelled was in what they shared outside of ma that could be comfortably shared over a dinner conversation. Suddenly I felt a greater sense of compassion or love, or understanding about someone other than myself – I was offered an opportunity into a different world, or heart, or experience. The fiery furnace and self possession of Mark Dessaix; the romantic nostalgia of Carla Nirella speaking Italian with her family; the guilty reflection of a small boy with a toothache in Iraq.

Politics is more than a formative moment. It is a life shaping philosophy that underpins a person’s way of contributing to and communicating with the world.