Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Forum - on plays and playwrights

Last week Neil posted on the death of Australian playwright, Alan Seymour, playwright: 1927-2015. In addition to the links in Neil's post, this is another obituary. It got me thinking: who do you think are the best Australian playwrights? Are there Australian playwrights who have occupied a particular place in your memory?

This is, I suppose, too Australian focused. So for those outside Australia, feel free to select one or more from your own country.

Meantime, Judi Crane fresh from the triumph of Canberra Rep's The Importance of Being Earnest pointed me in the direction of this piece, Phil Willmott: The 21 deadly sins of theatre production. Some I would reject, while I might add others. In this context, what would you add or subtract?

It's some years since I went to the theatre on a regular basis. I'm sure that's a fault, but there was a period in which everything got so overlaid with angst and deep and meaningful that I kind of gave up. 

As always, don't feel constrained to stick to the topic. Jazz hands welcome.  


Good conversation this forum. In passing, kvd referred to a site that I had actually forgotten, Leann Richards' History of Australian Theatre. He was particularly struck by the story of Minnie Everett.I can see why.  .


Winton Bates said...

I am old enought to be able to remember what "The One Day of the Year" was about, or atleast what I think I remember it was about.
Attitudes toward ANZAC day seem to have changed somewhat over the last half century. In my youth I thought it was about glorification of war and drunkenness, and only the latter had any appeal for me. These days I think young people have a better appreciation that people who actually went to war had a horror of war.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. The shifts in attitude towards ANZAC Day are interesting and indeed unexpected. I had thought that the day would decline as the diggers died and, indeed, at one point I would have argued that that would be a very good thing. I never expected that it would return in such a big way.

I don't like the current focus on Australia's military past. To my mind, it involves official misuse. But I think that I agree with you on young people. And on a purely personal level, ANZAC Day means more to me now than it did then when we objected to it on a variety of grounds.

Anonymous said...

In 2008 I played Dot Cook (Mum) in CREP's production of TODOTY. the revelation for me -as actor and character - was that the play was about alienation and family dissonance- ANZAC day was a device to permit context. Hughie (the son) is growing away from his background and family. His parents do not understand what happens at 'the yuni', nor do they understand the realities of his meeting people of different backgrounds, and being influenced by them, as exemplified by Jan. I used Dot as a focus for a paper on the actor's voice I gave at ISSA a couple of years ago

Anonymous said...

Well Jim, you and Winton might snigger about jazz hands - but I think of this activity as the supreme answer to that timeless Zen contemplation upon 'the sound of one hand clapping'. And lo and behold:

Now for the 'gateless gate' :)


Evan said...

How I wish there was more good comedy. It's much harder though.

I still like how we do ANZAC day, though I like a good deal less the jingoism that seems to be becoming part of Australia Day.

Noric Dilanchian said...

[Thought clearing sound] Back on the top most drama theme gentlemen...

I had the good fortune back in high school to have occasional theatre tickets donated by a school friend's parents. So my friend and I saw works directed by many. The standout remains Peter Brook. An incredible double were at the Seymour Theatre next to Sydney University. There I saw The Iks and the other Conference of the Birds. They remain among the greatest theatre experiences of my life. I could talk for an hour about them.

Then at university in my Arts Degree I did two years of drama studies (mostly reading plays); my major was history. Here the greatest experience was seeing a NIDA production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.

We studies Australian playwrights in Drama. After graduation about 50% of the plays I saw were written by Australians (often at the Nimrod). Many were adaptations of foreign works; the Australian plays appear to not have registered in my memory as concretely. I recall being present in plays by Jack Hibberd, Louis Nowra, Michael Gow, David Williams.

With all names mentioned a point is that each becomes in one's memory a touchpoint. First arrives wonder and engagement. Next enquiry into what was written or performed. As the years roll on you return adding layers to the original impression. Emerging all along is a worldview that shapes one's thinking. You can't get better than that.

Theatre is an ultimate form of human communication, close to it is conversation. Thanks Jim for encouraging conversation.

2 tanners said...

I have always loved Shakespeare, who I'm sure would have loved to have been Australian had he only had the opportunity. Well, maybe.

More seriously, I feel that the Bell Shakespeare company rarely miss and bring innovative and enjoyable interpretations most of the time. As far as I'm concerned they have been an enduring cultural treasure.

Finally, for kvd and his Zen wisdom, what is the sound of one hand clapping? A butterfly.

Anonymous said...

Tanners, that cannot be the answer, otherwise by now it would have been regulated, or taxed, or probably both :)

But I agree with you about Bell, and your appreciation of Himself. It wasn't so many posts ago that I suggested Jim catch a version of Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes, which I found quite wonderful. With actors (gender neutral) who I always enjoy watching.

And also, don't care how much he seems derided by some, I think Williamson nails some aspects of ourselves quite consistently.

But a confession from yoof; I loved G&S - particularly in Brisbane, dunno why. There's an interesting site below. Before my time, but look up Minnie Everett for the story of a remarkable woman, and probably the forerunner of the people who gave me so much enjoyment.


Anonymous said...

Lucky you, Noric! I saw Brook's Dream (live) and his Lear and Carmen on film. I wrote and presented extensively on him when I was doing some post grad study at UNE. In the course of a long(ish)and largely misspent theatrical life, I've had some amazing experiences. Standouts; Judi Dench, Bill Fraser and Donald Sinden in 12th Night (my absolute favourite ever play), Leo McKern in Boswell for the Defence, 12th Night at The Globe, Patrick Stewart in Macbeth, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh in Godot, Richard Griffiths in The History Boys, STC's The Lost Echo and The English Shakespeare Co's marathon Wars of the Roses (R2 to R3 over 4 days). As a practitioner? Guildenstern in RandG are Dead, Eleanor (The Lion in Winter), Dot Cook (TODOTY), Janette Howard (The Pig Iron people), Clairee and Oiser in 2 different productions of Steel Magnolias, and my newest 'baby', directing The Importance of Being Earnest and garnering lots of very lovely reviews!
JDB has never seen me on stage!

Jim Belshaw said...

I was going to wait until tomorrow to respond since the conversation is running so well, but hang on JCW, I have.

Was it a restoration comedy? The recruiting something?

2 tanners said...

Was Brook's Dream the one on swings? I've seen the photos only - looked incredible and I've always admired his work. Bit of a Brecht fan also - he and Shakespeare could take existing tat and turn it into something special. These days they'd be sued into non-existence, penury or both.

Jim Belshaw said...

I have been enjoying this conversation, just reading and going with the flow. A butterfly to you all!

Anonymous said...


That's some pretty impressive initials right there!


2 tanners said...


G&S is one of my not-at-all-guilty pleasures. I prefer it when they don't update the lyrics, but it's not too big an issue, as the rhythm pattern is easy enough in the patter songs to avoid doggerel and some nasty political and social gibes can be slipped in. Why this should be acceptable to me would be a mystery,

"But everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man."

Anonymous said...

Yes, Brook's Dream was the one with swings. JDB, it was The Recruiting Officer; I was Lucy.
You saw me again in The Fuhrer Flies In, but not until after I saw you! I looked through a hole in the set (a very bad but universal actor's habit) and there you were in the audience!
wasn't it written by a friend of yours?

Anonymous said...

"yet" not but :)

tanners, you are more advanced than me; I still feel guilty. Serious question - Jim said it, Noric alluded to it:

Why is theatre, or any form of entertainment for that matter, only considered 'good or worthy' if it causes angst rather than simple pleasure?

Back in the '50's my family played, over and over, a recording of 'Oklahoma!', and I still quite vividly remember watching the screen version in Lithgow at age maybe 8-9. Still know most of the words, and I still have the vinyl; I still watch 'Earnest' every time it appears on Foxtel. Pleasure.

Why can't one take - without apology - pleasure from, for instance, JCW's current production, and the simple observation that "to lose both looks like carelessness"? Can't tell you how many times I've gleefully stolen that observation over the years.


Anonymous said...

Actually, thinking about it more - what I love is the language. Noric talked about a 'conversation' and I think he is correct.

For me, it doesn't matter the conduit; what matters is how the words resonate with something in your life:

"Hello darkness my old friend. I've come to talk with you again".

Never forgotten that.


Jim Belshaw said...

Multiple points to pick up!

So, JCW, you were Lucy as in? On two, if its the play I'm thinking of it was written by David. A first production.

I too love G&S, and that line that 2 t almost quoted (!) comes from a song with considerable resonance to some of the things that we talk about on this blog.
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am:
I'm a genuine philanthropist - all other kinds are sham.
Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people's eyes,
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow-creatures - I do all the good I can -
Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
And I can't think why!

Source -

I, too, love the sound of words and enjoy good lines. That Simon & Garfunkel line that kvd quoted is also one of my favourites.

I haven't attempted to write plays, perhaps I will try one day, because it requires such great control over language.

Anonymous said...

Watcha mean 'Lucy as in'? I was Lucy as in 'a character in The Recruiting Officer'. David who? I don't know any Davids, and it certainly wasn't your brother David.
It was a piece of fluff, and I suspect that the Theatre ACT outing was its first and only production. At least I got paid for it. I quite like getting paid for junk. It's one of the reasons I love doing ads.
You were supposed to see RandG are Dead. You were on some strange community consultative committee with UNE TStudies and you were even on the FREE list. I was told that you were a 'theatre groupie'. Not that I noticed!

Jim Belshaw said...

Fie, fie! Unknit that threat'ning unkind brow
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads

Well! Lucy as in a TV series; David (not brother) as the possible author of the play; and I became a member of the Theatre Studies committee just before I left Armidale when things were a little difficult. Unkind brow indeed!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Great conversation.

I am off to see As you like it (Bell production) next Tuesday night. There is such pleasure in live theatre.

I love the lines that KVD quoted: so evocative, I have had to dig out the CD so I can play it after sending this comment.

I too remember seeing The One Day of the Year a very long time ago. I agree with Winton's comment and anon at 9.48am.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sue. Enjoy the Bell production and the CD!