A response to Patrick McCarthy’s June
by Emilie Collyer
June invites us to consider silence. How comfortable are we with it? The not quite silence of sitting in an audience waiting for a show to begin. The silence as lights go down, sound falls away, a figure emerges from the dark. Standing. Silent. And later, moments, sitting. Silent. Turning. Silent.
The same day I see June I hear a story on the radio about a monk and he talks about the importance of silence. How taking time each day to be silent and to contemplate is a way of waiting for the sacred to be let in. He talks about finding silence even within a busy, active, noisy life.
June has become intimate with silence, and we are invited to transgress the boundaries of this intimacy with her as she speaks.
What does it mean to speak? We have awkward relationships with the sound of our own voice. Or some of us do. Others are inured to the sounds their speech makes, sensing it as innate and natural. As powerful. This can be shattered. June can hold pieces together as they also drop away. June invites us to recollect how the quality of voice changes as relationships shift. I think of friends I had where the friendship faded or fractured. Often an early sign was the friend’s voice would become higher pitched when she spoke to me, when she said my name, as if it was a tune she could no longer find.
Speaking can entertain and endear. We warm to June’s way of speaking to us. She speaks cleverly at times and with wryness, with moments of clarity and sometimes we shout with laughter. Sometime her words make grassy banks around which a pool of deep mystery is held. Not everything can be spoken or understood by speech.
June asks who we speak for and who may speak for us. She is ready to speak. She needs to speak. Who will listen?
A story is being told but it is unfolding rather than driving. This is narrative fragmented, associated, reflected, recalled. We listen to June. June listens to her past and to the sometimes loud sometimes quiet chorus of Junes that inhabit her. June shifts what it is for an audience to listen, how we do it and how we follow the train of a thought, uttered.
June considers the human act of listening over time and invites us to do the same. How do we listen now? Has it changed? Has something been lost or is it simply changing shape? Do we hold listening in the palm of our hands and have we forgotten to lift our hands to our ears? We try to remember.
June asks many questions about memory. Words stand out: ‘Whose face do you remember?’ We are taken back in time. We see June anew. We are outside, warm night, we see a person who changes something in us forever. We are outside on a beach, the sand on our skin, the salt wind in our mouths. We see a face that lights something new inside us. Who did we used to be and what did we hope would happen? Does the earth remember its beginning? When did those parts of you begin to hurt? The past expands.
As we sit waiting for the show to begin, I see white with promises of green. I see what could be ice cubes or ice flows or icebergs. The green creeps up on them and small pods of sticks wait quietly at the edge of the space. My eye is taken upwards, towards the sky. We cannot see the sky, of course, in a theatre, but our mind’s eye can. The sky, as seen by June, arcs back millions of years and also hovers in a moment captured. A child. A dream. A room filled with glass. A mother. A lighthouse.
June is not talking about climate change, but she is not NOT talking about it. The world she is in and the worlds she speaks into being in front of us contain a wonderment with time and progress. June, like us, is both small and enormous. Her life is a star already disappeared, but it is also the light still reaching us. What I’m saying is, June is both ordinary and heavenly timeless all at once. This play is tiny and epic all at once.
Distance grows between people. Themselves and their past. Themselves and their loved ones. Distance ripples outwards. It is contagious. It is tempting. It lessens pain. Or it makes the pain softer, less sharp. The way light disappears at the edge of the stage. The way a play begins with one story and then ripples out so it is about something altogether else but also, always, about that same story. Are we attending to what the story holds?
June holds ours attention. She circles. She flows in her recollections and observations at times heart-piercing, at times mundane, at times hilarious. There is something hovering though. Something that must be attended to. June looks at moments in her life. She looks at one moment. She shows it to us. What are the moments in our lives we push away or replay? I want to use words like responsibility and atonement, reckoning and debt. The words look too heavy on the page. In the theatre, with June, in her world, it is not these words but her body and her face, the way she moves through space with that moment in her wake that I remember.
At one moment June needs to take breath. The light expands as she breathes. Does it? Or have I imagined that?
We are held in a space where there is pleasure in words and in storytelling while there may be pain in the story that is uttered. We are invited to attend to June. She is not on trend, June. She is of her own time, and we are with her as she weaves time. Not much more than an hour passes and yet we have been so many places, within and without. With June.
Emilie Collyer lives on unceded Wurundjeri Country where she writes poetry, plays and prose, and is completing a PhD researching feminist creative practice. Her poetry book Do you have anything less domestic? (Vagabond Press 2022) won the Five Islands Press Prize. She is currently under commission with Red Stitch Theatre and is the 2023 Melbourne Athenaeum Library writer-in-residence.