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
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. Russia