Nowra or never: Don’t Look Away’s Inner Voices

First produced in 1977 at the Nimrod (now Belvoir) Downstairs theatre, Louis Nowra’s Inner Voices was written in the middle of the ‘New Wave’ period of Australian playwriting. Loosely defined as the late-1960s to the early-1980s, the ‘New Wave’ had similar flourishes in all other sectors of the performing arts and society, including film, literature, and music, and sought to bring a distinctly Australian sensibility to their work, as well as an experimentalism borrowed from European theatre, in a bid to distinguish themselves from the inherent Britishness that had been previously maintained. By the late 1970s, “the visionary enthusiasm and common sense of purpose that had characterised the New Wave were wearing off,” as John McCallum writes in Belonging. Out of the growing sense of disillusionment with the lack of unifying cohesiveness amongst their output, came Stephen Sewell and Louis Nowra, whose work was more political, less noticeably Australian, and “more cinematic in dramaturgy.” It is from this context, that Inner Voices springs, and Nowra’s interests and influences are as eclectic as his exploitation of genre and style. 
While we may now be open to the definition of what constitutes an Australian play, in the early 1980s it was still a point of contention that a play set overseas was not inherently Australian. Looking at Nowra’s Inner Voices today – forty years after it first appeared, in something of a mainstage revival – we can see that it is very much an Australian play, irrespective of the fact it is set in eighteenth century Russia. “The first of Nowra’s plays to attract wide attention,” Inner Voices is the story of a young prince, Ivan, who has been locked away in a prison for years, knowing only his name. Following the death of his mother Catherine the Great, Ivan is installed as a puppet-tsar by opportunistic advisers who want power for themselves. But as Ivan’s taste for power and savagery grows, so too do the troubles enveloping his kingdom, until Ivan achieves a savage retribution and comes into his own world.


The karate kid: Belvoir & Stuck Pigs Squealing’s Back at the Dojo

The world according to Lally Katz is one populated with fortune tellers, Hungarian neighbours, golems, forgotten vaudeville troupes, the Apocalypse Bear, and the Hope Dolphin. It’s a world of magic, where things are not quite what they seem, where everything is a story in one way or another, and characters often find themselves returning to Earth sooner or later. After the success of Neighbourhood Watch and Stories I Want To Tell You In Person, and having read a number of her previous plays, the promise of a new play by Lally Katz was tantalising, and came with more than a few expectations. But even though the story is drawn from her own family mythology and features a character based on her father as a young man, it doesn’t quite feel like the play it should be, the play it wants to be, and as a result feels a little bit hollow, though not without heart.
Back at the Dojo – a co-production with Belvoir and Melbourne company Stuck Pigs Squealing, Katz’s former co-conspirators – is inspired by the story of her parents’ meeting. Drifting through 1960s America, Danny stumbles across a karate dojo in New Jersey and, like the other members of the dojo, finds his way again with the help of the strict but not unbending sensei, and a young woman called Lois. Set against this, in something of a stark contrast, is the other end of the story, that of Dan and Lois (now older and in contemporary suburban Australia), and their granddaughter who has decided to become Patti Smith. It’s a seemingly gloriously Katzian collage, drawn from real life, chance meetings, and the talents of her collaborators, but something is missing in both the script in a very basic narrative way, and in the production.


Shakespeare Make U LOL: The Listies & STC’s The Tragedy of Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark

This is a revised version of a piece written for artsHub.

When I was twelve, my parents took me to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and even though I didn’t get all the jokes and references, I fell in love with the craziness, the silliness, and the sheer fun that the show revelled in and celebrated. To this day, I still maintain that your first serious exposure to Shakespeare (sometimes as a child) is how you see him and his work throughout life. Over the past number of years, there have been various productions which have come close to embracing the same sort of silliness and irreverence which the Reduced Shakespeare Company ushered in, and it is always a delight to revel in each production’s new take on the Bard.
While the rest of the world tries to out-do each other in the Most Reverent Homage To Shakespeare’s Legacy award to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th death-day, The Listies – along with their friends at Sydney Theatre Company – have mounted a production entitled Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark no less, which somehow manages to embrace Shakespeare’s play (and all its variants) and the kind of mindset often found in children aged five to ten, and pulls it off with enough fart jokes and theatrical magic (as well as a healthy dose of chaos) to make you feel like a kid again.


STC's All My Sons

Written when he was thirty, as a last attempt at playwriting after a string of plays failed to garner attention from producers or directors, All My Sons is the first of Arthur Millers’ four big plays (the others being Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and A View from the Bridge, which were all written consecutively). In it, we can see the seeds of what he would continue to explore in increasing depth and nuance throughout his career. And although you could perhaps pass All My Sons off as an ‘Ibsenesque’ play, it is in fact just as devastatingly meaty and dread-full as all his others, and grapples with issues of morality and ethics, consequences, responsibility, denial, guilt, and profiteering. And it seems just as relevant now as it did almost seventy years ago.
Directed by Kip Williams for Sydney Theatre Company, and staged within the cavernous Roslyn Packer Theatre, All My Sons is the story of the Keller family as they wait for their son Larry, currently Missing In Action after WWII, to come home. But as relationships form, old unhealed wounds and barely-suppressed secrets are torn open, and the lie under the floorboards of the Kellers’ stability and wealth is laid bare for all to see.