Prove your humanity

Up-and-coming playwright Nicholas Tan discusses his Fringe Festival production, Five, Six, what he’s learned so far, his plans for the future, and graciously imparts some wisdom for other budding creatives.

Five, Six is Tan’s latest work, and it’s a remarkable piece of theatre. Through the relationship of two brothers—Joel, who is obsessive compulsive, and Andy, who is closeted—it explores complex issues about gender, sexuality, family and the responsibility that we have to those that we care about.

Tan’s delivery of Five, Six for Fringe this year was an achievement that can be added to a burgeoning list. Tan began immersing himself in theatre in 2014, when he was invited to participate in Australian Theatre For Youth’s National Studio. The next year he became a member of the Western Australian Youth Theatre Co, which led him to become the assistant director of On the Face of Things for Fringe in 2016. Tan has also had his work selected for Hissyfest, a 10-minute festival by Tantrum Youth Arts , twice—in 2016 and 2017.

Five, Six was originally written for this purpose: as a 10-minute play for Hissyfest. After it’s selection it was directed by Allison Van Gaal and presented in 2016. For Fringe, Tan turned it into a full-length play.

Tan said that Five, Six was inspired by the concept of “out of place”—the theme of Hissyfest for that year. Although he enjoyed the piece he’d written for the festival, Tan felt that “the story of the brothers wasn’t finished.” After encouragement from Van Gaal, Tan started writing the stage play for the hour-long production and decided Fringe was “the perfect opportunity to develop work and try different things”.

Trying different things meant becoming a producer and director, roles that Tan found challenging, but rewarding:

“In the process of directing and producing Five, Six, I had to learn about lighting, sound, front-of-house, budgeting, as well as venue and audience and marketing—there were so many things that I had to do. There have been a lot of challenges and stress and heartache, but it’s been a great learning experience.”

All of Tan’s hard work has paid off. Five, Six is a touching and thought-provoking piece of Australian theatre; despite, perhaps, a few instances of misplaced dialogue.

The minimalistic set allowed the characters to make a mark, a decision that Tan made intentionally. The lighting and sound were used to good effect, and the lead actors, Calum Costelloe and Noah Way, who played brothers Joel and Andy respectively, were exceptional—if Tan is one to watch, then Costelloe and Way are too.

Tan’s fleshed out characters drive this narrative; during the production Joel and Andy evoked a variety of emotions from the audience, and were used to thoughtful comedic effect. Andy in particular was fascinating; when you hated to love him, then solely hated him, only to find that you loved him after all, you knew that you’d been given an exceptionally well written character.

This is unsurprising since Tan’s motto as a playwright is, “downwards, inwards, backwards,” since he wants to, “develop character driven pieces that involve self-reflection,” and explore “how the world can create intensity within us, regardless of the situation.”

Five, Six has received numerous positive reviews. On this, Tan said:

“It’s great. At the same time, there’s always room for improvement. And, of course, some people will like your show and others won’t. So, it’s a bit of let’s-celebrate-but-not-be-distracted-by-this.”

For his future, Tan has big plans. Currently he’s developing Five, Six further, is planning for Fringe in 2019, and he wants to immerse himself in all things theatre. For those considering a path in theatre, Tan warns that it’s hard work, but undeniably rewarding.

“Stand your ground, know what you want, but be open to feedback; don’t hold back in seeking opportunities, and make the tough decisions when you need to.”