Emerging local performing arts group Polygraph Collective is set to premiere its professional production of Man in a Bag later this month.
Emerging local performing arts group Polygraph Collective is set to premiere its professional production of Man in a Bag later this month. The play is based on the real-life mystery behind the death of MI6 agent Gareth Williams in 2010, whose body was found in his bathtub, zipped inside a padlocked sports bag. Playwright Emily Steel, originally from Wales, began writing the production when she was asked to do a student presentation at the Adelaide College of Arts in 2012. “I had a completely different idea [for another play], but it can’t have been going very well because I kept reading the UK news on the internet,” she explained. “There were all these stories about the inquest into the death of Gareth Williams, and with every article there seemed to be a new twist, a new character. ‘That’s the play,’ I thought. So I binned the other idea and wrote Man in a Bag instead.” Co-director Ben Roberts was one of the actors in the original student production while the other co-director and actor, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, was the sole-director. “Last September Ben asked me how I’d feel about him producing Man in a Bag for a professional show,” Steel said. “I thought it sounded like a great idea. Tiffany and Ben agreed to co-direct, so Tiffany could also be in it; and it’s gone on from there.” Although this is the first play Roberts has directed, the trio worked closely during Man in a Bag’s first production at the college. Roberts has recalled his role as an actor and has pushed what producers and directors, in terms of offering his opinion and thoughts, generally accept. “This is my first production in a director role, but it doesn’t feel like it given my history and attachment to the text and the confidence that comes from that,” he said. Lyndall-Knight has a wealth of experience in theatre. Born in Toronto and raised in Sydney from the age of nine, she returned to Canada at 20 to study at George Brown Theatre School before spending eight seasons with Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Roberts originally asked her to direct the professional production, but as she wanted to get back into acting on the stage in Australia, Lyndall-Knight convinced him to co-direct. “It’s a strange sensation sometimes [co-directing and acting in the same production] – I can actually feel my brain firing up in different places and in different ways as I shift between the two roles,” she said. “It’s very humbling, honestly, because I am constantly reminded how vulnerable a thing it is to be an actor.” Mystery still surrounds the story of Gareth Williams’ death; his house showed no sign of intrusion and was spotless, yet the mode of his death was so unusual, experts said it couldn’t possibly have been self-inflicted. The production of Man in a Bag holds just as much mystery, with Roberts saying that is one of his favourite things about the play. “Never have I encountered a play based on true events so shrouded in mystery. I love how it has both the cast and the audience asking questions, and reflecting back on their own experiences with friends and loved ones.” There were rumours that Williams’ death may have been a sexual act gone wrong or that it was an MI6 cover-up, with recent re-investigations stating that his death was “probably an accident” despite raising questions about whether he could have zipped and padlocked himself inside a bag. Man in a Bag is set to be a thrilling and exciting production for audience members, which reaches deeply into the question of what is true, and how you ever know what is true. “I hope it connects with its audiences. I hope it makes them think and feel. I hope they are glad they came out on a cold night,” Steel said. But will audience members watching Man in a Bag get a resolution? “That would be telling, wouldn’t it?” Man in a Bag The Studio, Holden Street Theatres Friday, July 18 to Saturday, August 2 venuetix.com.au