Australian voices speak up at the National Play Festival

The 2014 National Play Festival will present new works that reflect a diverse national voice in new and inventive ways.
Australian voices speak up at the National Play Festival

​Image courtesy Playwriting Australia. 

Australian playwriting is in much better health than recent concerns about missing Australian product would have us believe, according to Playwriting Australia (PWA) Artistic Director Tim Roseman.

‘Reports of Australian theatre’s death are continually exaggerated and most sectors of Australian theatre I find to be pretty healthy,’ he said.  

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‘It is vital to draw attention to the importance of playwriting in our national culture. I fervently believe it is playwrights who fundamentally imagine worlds for us, and create the landscapes of our stages.’

In this spirit the 2014 National Play Festival will offer bold, diverse and vibrant work and robust discussion about the role of the playwright in society.

Held in Sydney from 12 to 15 June, the festival features a range of new works in development, panel discussions, networking opportunities and, for the first time, a professional development series known as the Playwrights’ Program.

Roseman said that four new plays headlining the festival all interrogated the social psyche in unique and fearless ways. ‘The works that we have selected for the Play Festival try to look at the world from a different perspective in a new vista for our culture,’ said Roseman.

The selection is a showcase of all-female playwrights, both emerging and established. The four plays to be presented as public readings are Thieves by Kathryn Ash, Mortido by Angela Betzien, Moths by Michele Lee and Samson by Julia-Rose Lewis.

‘Angela Betzien is rapidly becoming one of our most dynamic and vital playwrights in Australia. Mortido is epic – It’s a huge exploration of the cocaine supply chain in Sydney and how the choices we make can lead us to places we were never expecting,’ said Roseman.

‘It’s a story about a man who is trying to become the snow king of Sydney, and what he needs to do to bypass the Mexican cartels to find a new supply chain. It’s infused throughout with a magical, macabre exploration of Mexican myth and taking inspiration from the day of the dead mythology. It’s woven beautifully and seamlessly between those two worlds.’

Roseman said that Lewis’ Samson was developed at the PWA National Script Workshop last November. ‘What was really appealing about it was that on the surface it feels like a play that you may have encountered before, in as much that it is four young people in a deadbeat town trying to find pathways in their life.

‘What was so fascinating about it aside from the genuine hilarity and brilliant profundity of Julia-Rose’s writing – there are moments where it is laugh-out-loud funny – there’s a truly deep exploration of what it means to be young, and how young people engage with cosmic questions.’

In a co-commission between PWA and Griffin Theatre Company, Moths by Michele Lee is an exploration of Asian Australian identity, gender and sexuality, developed within a verbatim framework with an ensemble of actors.

‘She has exploded verbatim and created a piece of theatre about a group of people creating a piece of theatre. Although that sounds rather meta, it also has wonderful humour and insights into a community that we would have never seen on our stage. Not only is it brilliant and invigorating, it is an important and significant play about a segment of our community that is far too absent on our stages.’

Roseman said that Ash’s Thieves is a gothic fairytale set in a deadbeat and suburban liquor store where the characters were faced with issues of morality. ‘Their worlds change fundamentally when they witness a drunk woman abuse her daughter publicly.They make a monumental decision about what to do. While that sounds not unlike a thriller, it is set against the magic realist framework of angels where time isa fluidentity.

‘It has such potency in the language and imagination and the characters of the world feel so fresh and so honest, you never think for a second they are the construct of a playwright,’ he said.

Opening the Play Festival with celebrated screenwriter and playwright Andrew Bovell with keynote speech on Thursday 12 June, where he will speak for the achievements of Australian writers, reveal his most inspired and challenging moments, and argue for the place of writing in a contemporary theatre.

Reflecting the growing demand for diversity in Australian writing, Songrites, on Thursday 12 June, will see celebrated Indigenous musicians Casey Donovan, Troy Brady and Abe Wright share their very first new plays, developed by PWA and Sydney Opera House.

As guests of the festival, Singapore’s Checkpoint Theatre is presenting a contemporary showcase of works on Saturday 14 June which herald PWA’s desire for a stronger shared Asian Australian writing canon.

During the Free Speech public talks, leading actors and playwrights including Stephen Sewell, Tommy Murphy, Leah Purcell, John Gadenand Dan Wyllie will discuss their experiences of creating bold and brave work on the national stage.  

‘We’re really looking to playwrights as key beacons within our society, with key things to say, big ideas and a fundamentally vital role in the way that we create our culture. It is what I hope will be a long conversation over a generation to make sure that the playwright is elevated within Australian society,’ said Roseman.

Roseman said that anyone still deciding whether to attend the National Play Festival should consider the incredible collection of leading Australian artists together in the one space.

‘From Andrew Bovell’s keynote address, through to so many of our most exciting playwrights, Joanna Murray Smith, Michael Gow, Angela Bietzen, Stephen Sewell, Tommy Murphy, Jane Bodie, Lachlan Philpot – the sheer scope of what is on offer is unlike anything we have seen in Sydney for some time, and the program is so varied and buoyant that there will be something that you will walk away from having loved.’  

‘We only have one opportunity to reflect the world that we live in, and that happens right now. We have to really be incredibly tenacious in how we take that opportunity.’

The Playwriting Australia National Play Festival runs from 12 to 15 June in Sydney.

For full program information and tickets visit the Playwriting Australia website

Troy Nankervis

Monday 2 June, 2014

About the author

Troy Nankervis is an ArtsHub journalist from Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @troynankervis