A new season for Three Winters Green

Seb Thornton-Walker plays Francis in Three Winters Green. Image: supplied.

Although Three Winters Green is distinctly set in a particular time and place, there’s no doubt it resonates in the current COVID world. Campion Decent discusses his play with the Sentinel’s arts editor, Rita Bratovich. 

“It is an interesting parallel, or there are points of intersection, and that was possibly one of the reasons to think this play still is timely, it still has something to say, albeit in a different context, to a contemporary audience,” says Campion Decent about the new production of his play.

“So, you know, regardless of what the situation is in terms of whether it’s HIV or Covid or something else, that notion of something external coming along and knocking a community for six, and people having to negotiate and navigate their way through huge change, is a feature of both of those epidemics.”

Three Winters Green was first staged in 1993 in Sydney. By then, HIV had become a destructive entity in the gay community, leaving in its wake stories of untimely death, resilience, misplaced anger, courage and love. Decent’s ensemble piece tells the stories of eight diverse characters whose experiences are disparate yet interwoven.  

Seb Thornton-Walker (left) and Samson Alston. Image: supplied.

The plot is actually set in the 1980s in Sydney, and takes place over three years. Seven actors play the eight characters, with one doubling up: Samson Alston plays both Martin who is gay and elusive, and Mick, the stereotypical straight; Norah George plays Martin’s alcoholic mother, Maxine; Luke Arthur is the gay and affable Andrew; Maddison Silva and Julia Muncs play lesbian couple Jen and Beck; Samuel Welsh plays Joseph, a sexually confused schoolteacher; and Seb Thornton-Walker plays the pivotal role of Francis, a rambunctious gay schoolboy who goes on to become a drag queen. 

Thornton-Walker is a trans actor in a role that has up until now always been played by a gay male actor. 

“I’m really interested to see what that brings to the world of the play,” says Decent.

The stories and characters are not specifically based on any true events but rather, are informed by what Decent saw around him at the time. There is also a bit of himself in each of the characters:

“Francis is the me that I felt I didn’t quite have the courage to be – he’s the better me. And then Martin is the angry me, and Andrew is the thoughtful me …”

It was important for Decent to include the lesbian characters because he felt that lesbians were often cut out of the overall narrative.

“My experience of the time was that gay men and lesbians were working together in a community context, and they were absolutely vital for the HIV/AIDS epidemic at that time.”

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104. Image: WikiCommons.

Decent is co-directing the play alongside Les Solomon. The two have known each other for a long time and understand each other creatively. 

The title is a slightly altered phrase (originally “three winters cold”) from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104. 

“In a way, ‘three winters’ is a metaphor in the play for the darkest years of the HIV epidemic,” explains Decent. “But, in the play it was about, ‘How do we actually move through that? How do we establish growth again within the community and within the characters of the play arising out of that?’ Hence the notion of rebirth – green, growth etc.”

Three Winters Green

PLEASE NOTE: Due to lockdown being enforced in Sydney until July 9, the scheduled performances of Three Winters Green have have postponed. New dates have not yet been advised. Check the Sydney Sentinel website regularly for updates or visit www.sydneyfringe.com/events/three-winters-green/

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.