Sarah Giles chats S.S. METAPHOR

All aboard! The S.S. Metaphor sets sail in one week!

The Malthouse Theatre are once again pushing the limits of theatre is with their new cabaret-comedy, penned by and starring the brilliantly funny Ash Flanders. S.S. Metaphor will be performed on the Malthouse Outdoor stage, creating a unique viewing experience. Ash is joined by Zenya Carmellotti, Will Conyers (who also provided Music Direction), and Natalie Gamsu for a night like no other.

Sarah Giles | Photo by Pia Johnson

Sarah Giles is the show’s Director and Dramaturg, and is absolutely thrilled to be working on a new piece of theatre after the last few years. Sarah is an award winning opera and theatre director, having directed productions for the STC, MTC, State Theatre of South Australia, Malthouse Theatre, Griffin Theatre, and more. Past credits include Lorelei, Mrs Warren’s Profession, The Popular Mechanicals, Accidental Death of an Anarchist and The Ugly One.

How have you found being back in a rehearsal room after the last few years?

Sarah: Oh my god, it’s so nice [laughs]. I actually did a show in the middle of the year… I’ve really done a few shows this year, which is odd because they all happened in-between all the lockdowns. But it’s so nice just to be back in the room with other people, making stuff.

I think after the last few years, we as audiences and theatremakers really learned the value of how important live performance is.

Sarah: I genuinely believe theatre is the closest you can be to being alive, because when you make a show or when you rehearse the show, you can’t be anywhere except present. When you’re watching a show it’s happening in front of you. You’re present as an audience member. And like life, it happens in front of you and then it fades and it’s gone. I find that nostalgia really appealing – then it’s gone forever, and it will never happen again. It feels like such a great way to spend a lifetime going to the theatre or being involved in making it. That was a real point of frustration, I think, for a lot of artists during COVID – this notion of “let’s try and do it over Zoom, let’s try and make the Zoom rehearsal.” And so of my colleagues were like, “You just can’t. You’ve got to stop because you cannot make theatre unless you can collectively get together.” So we’re just grateful to be able to do that again.

Is it exciting to be working on a brand new piece of theatre?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s fun. My lockdown was a particular brand – we have two young kids, the husband works full time, so lockdown was a very particular beast. So to then be able to make something new… Everyone in the room is feeling quite bold. Everyone’s like bringing a lot to the room, I think because everyone’s been trapped inside and haven’t had anywhere to really put the insanity of their ideas. And it’s quite a short rehearsal period as well, we’ve only really had about two weeks, so we’re also working very quickly, which is fun because it means there’s not a lot of time to sit around. We love it, it’s quite satisfying to work like that.

Ash Flanders and Zenya Carmellotti in rehearsals for S.S. Metaphor

Can you tell me a bit about the show?

Sarah: The premise is that you [the viewer] are sitting aboard a cruise ship, and you’re watching the show that that cruise ship puts on every single night, the cabaret show. From there, it kind of unravels. And that space is set up for a cabaret, not for a traditional theatre show. So the show is walking this strange line between theatre show with narrative and a kind of cabaret show. I’ve not seen anything like it, to be honest

Have you and the cast been able to play with the script a bit during the rehearsal period?

Sarah: I think the notion of a writer sitting in a locked room, writing a script, and then delivering it and people just performing it… I just don’t believe that exists. I think every show has a certain level of collaboration, and that’s dictated by how collaborative that particular writer wants to be. Ash is actually incredibly collaborative. He’s very open, so it’s been a hugely collaborative process. We had a couple of developments where we had actors come in and read and give feedback. There’s been lots of tinkering, and then someone’ll throw in another idea and another offering. It hasn’t steered drastically from its original concept. It’s sort of it’s not like some naturalistic play where you’ve got talking on stage, having a conversation, and it’s simply about what they’re saying. The form of the piece has something to say.

The Malthouse Outdoor Stage has previously only been used for concerts, cabarets, and comedy shows – how have you found using this space for a narrative piece of theatre?

Sarah: There are things that you can do outdoors that you just can’t do in a theatre. You know, there’s certain shows, certain ideas and works that sit out there really nicely. The Malthouse are amazing, pivoting and figuring out how to reinvent definitions of what theatre is in terms of what space is. How do you engage with it? What sort of sort of audiences come along? I’ve not worked in an outdoor theatre, so it’s great doing something you’ve not done before as well. I think if you’ve never been to a theatre show before, this is probably a good one to go to.

S.S. Metaphor opens at The Malthouse Theatre on December 9th.

For tickets and more information, visit the Malthouse website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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