It is, as the old TV content warnings used to advise, a play “with adult themes”, so how do actors and directors approach creating such scenes, especially when for most people the idea of kissing your co-worker in front of 200 people every night for a month would be, let’s face it, a bit weird.
“It’s work,” says Dusseldorp. “You have a task, it’s your job, you do it. And you do it with respect to the other person and respect to yourself.”
For Rattray – who says the play “calls for a human generosity and kindness and understanding and acceptance of people’s flaws” – it starts on the first day of rehearsal when she creates a shared “language about how we would feel safe in the room”.
“It’s not necessarily about just physical intimacy, but also being vulnerable and feeling safe in that space,” she says. “Then the whole team has a shared language from the beginning. It means everyone is starting from the same place, which is really useful because everyone works in a different way and everyone has different boundaries.”
Rattray also builds a “physical map” for the actors, which guides them through intimate scenes. “You go, ‘OK, these are the five physical points we’re going to hit’. And there might be a passionate kiss within that, so that’s the kind of last thing you move to,” she says.
“So for the first however many times, they might just go cheek to cheek, but just hold the feeling of that moment and the tone of that moment. It’s not like, ‘Oh now we kiss’, it’s, ‘These are our five points and when we feel really comfortable and when we feel we’re ready, then we’ll add in the kiss’.”
It’s a process that works for Dusseldorp.
“What I like is that it takes the emotion out of it,” she says. “I’m an emotional person, so when I take the emotion out of it, it means it can never be recharged and it will never be misinterpreted. It’s the same on set. When you have to do a sex scene on TV, you sometimes can have a director who is uncomfortable directing that and as long as I know that, then me and the other actor will go aside, without anyone else, and say, ‘If I put my hand here and this here and what about if you take off my bra here’ and it takes any kind of sex out of it.”
It isn’t just the kissing, though, as Bazzi points out. “Standing there and holding each other, that breaks a boundary, too,” he says. “And if you already have this respect and trust and you go, ‘Oh that’s nice, that feels nice’, then you go into the next step.”
Movement director Nigel Poulton, a qualified intimacy director with the US organisation Intimacy Directors International, has helped Dusseldorp and Bazzi achieve that next step. The group has created the accepted standards for simulated intimacy across film, TV and theatre in the US, using their “pillars” of context, communication, consent, choreography and closure.
(There are no official intimacy guidelines in Australia, although the Media Entertainment and Arts and Alliance is developing a set “to be used on every production in the country” covering “scenes that involve nudity, semi-nudity, intimacy, simulated sexual activity and sexual violence”.)
For Poulton, who is also a fight director and is now training the cast of Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the art of combat, locking down the choreography between the actors in intimate scenes is critical, as it stops things going “pear-shaped” once emotion comes into play.
“We want to make sure we’re really happy with the shape of it, that the actors feel really comfortable with it and everyone knows where hands and bodies are going and that it’s really consistent and repeatable,” he says. “Because if you don’t lock that choreography down really tightly, when the emotional content comes into it, the choreography can go a bit pear-shaped. You’ve got to build a really strong imprint so it’s consistent and respectful.”
He describes the scenes he developed with Dusseldorp and Bazzi as in “no way gratuitous or explicit but in the context of the story, they are incredibly deep and emotional”.
“Marta is just an extraordinary actress and it’s been amazing doing this with her,” says Poulton. “And Fayssal is beautiful to work with, as usual, and Paige just brings a sophisticated touch to these productions.”
While intimacy directing has really caught on in the US over the past decade, with HBO, Netflix and Amazon Prime using intimacy co-ordinators across their productions, in Australia the concept is slower to gain traction.
“Some significant, high-profile incidents that have happened over the last couple of years have shone a spotlight on poor practices happening in theatre spaces,” says Poulton. “It’s really important to acknowledge there has been poor practice in the workplace, but there has been good practice in the workplace as well. It’s just [that] there is a way people can now deal with this stuff consistently and with some assurance.”
While Dusseldorp appreciates the new focus on an actor’s physical wellbeing, for her the hardest thing about The Deep Blue Sea has been “deciding to kill myself on stage. I dread that”.
“I have a lot of techniques in place to understand that’s the work,” she says. “I’ve talked about it many times in interviews, waiting up the road until you can come in level-headed for your kids, which is really important and if you can’t, you need to seek help. That’s what’s beautiful about this play and this new generation, it’s OK to say I need help.”
For Bazzi, shaking off Freddie – who he describes as “a guy who has so much heart, but doesn’t know how to express it” – starts with a shower and ends with a song.
“I had a string of characters a couple of years ago where it was just character after character with a dark past or a sad twist and I found myself getting very low, but then I found music gets me out of it,” he says. “So I have a song for Freddie – Orville Peck’s Nothing Fades Like the Light. When I get home I have a shower, to get rid of the day, and then I listen to that song and it snaps me out of it.”
It’s not quite the same scenario in the Dusseldorp household.
“I try to do that, but then my kids change it to Taylor Swift,” says Dusseldorp, laughing. “Noooo! I play Uno, then I get drawn into whatever they’ve made that day or drawn into the pool. I love it, you walk in and it’s just irrelevant what you’ve been through, join the family.”
The Deep Blue Sea is at the Roslyn Packer Theatre from February 4 to March 7.
Louise is Editor of S and TV Liftout at The Sun-Herald