Though the storylines differ, the characters of Daniel Keene’s plays will always strike a relatable chord in many of us. Keene’s knack for breathing a poetic life into the often neglected, lost souls of society offers not only a captivating sincerity mastered by few – the Becketts, the Chekhovs – but a mirror image of everyday lives we often encounter.
The Nightwatchman will mark the fifth Daniel Keene play Melbourne director Matt Scholten has worked on since 2008. Prior to this, Scholten assisted the direction of Keene’s debut Melbourne Theatre Company play, Life Without Me, at this year’s Melbourne Arts Festival, and it seems the partnership between the two is only getting stronger.
Initially written for a French theatre company, The Nightwatchman follows the lives of three people as they proceed into a new chapter in their lives. Bill, the father, has gone blind and his children Helen and Michael return home to move their father to another place. Whilst at home, all three discover shared memories that not only bring them closer together, but also threaten to hold them back.
“In many respects, the characters are in a hurry to move into the next part of their lives,” explains Scholten. “Their relationship with the past is a very interesting one and it varies for each of the characters, but they all have to let the past go. The play is really about saying goodbye and moving forward, and for each of those three people in the play, it’s a very different world that they’re heading towards.”
A long admirer of Keene’s work, Scholten’s directorial approach has always been about being open to suggestion and listening to his colleagues. Although Keene’s involvement in the production process is minimal insofar as executive decisions are made, Scholten reveals: “I’m the kind of director who really believes in honouring the playwright. I begin with the text and I really want to make the text the centre of the piece, and I want to honour what the playwright wants. I really believe part of my job is to serve their vision.”
Though they officially met during Scholten’s production of Keene’s Half and Half in 2008, the director-playwright partnership really began in 2009 when the two collaborated on The Dog Theatre’s production of The Cove, which featured eight short works by Keene. Their partnership is one based on support and the sharing of ideas with Scholten in the wonderful position of having access to a lot of Keene’s new as well as back-catalogue works. As they continue to work together, Scholten hopes to produce at least one Keene play a year.
“I’m really turned on by language. His [Keene’s] ability to create and fashion stories with beautiful language is just a dream. The rhythms that are contained in that work and the images that he evokes and creates are really incredible. I think that the key thing is that he also writes from the heart.
“I think I’ve found the playwright that is the right one for my directorial style,” he continues. “I think we’ve got a relationship where we both like similar things in terms of theatre, and we both have very similar views of the world politically and socially.”
The Nightwatchman runs November 24–December 12 at Theatre Works, St. Kilda.