David Williamson replies to questions posed by David Paul
Jobling regarding his new play THE GREAT MAN at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney
A Sydney Theatre Company production, THE GREAT MAN is set in
the lounge room of a ‘great’ politicians second wife as his funeral service is
being worked out to mark his passing.
DPJ: You have written some of the funniest Australian plays
I’ve ever seen, “Don’s Party” & “The Club” are my
favourites. Is THE GREAT MAN a comedy in the same vein?
DW: There’s humour, but the play’s undertow is essentially
serious. It’s a look at the way the Labor party, (who all at Don’s Party wanted
to see in office after 19 years), actually performed in its two periods in
office. And in many ways I think the answer, at least in the Hawke Keating
years, is not all that well. I do however balance this with the views of Tegan
who feels that the progress on social issues in the Hawke Keating years was
substantial and that no modern political party can do anything about the
growing gap between rich and poor.
DPJ: There is a very ‘typical’ type of humour in your work,
I would call it’dark’ because it focuses in on some of the aspects of human
behaviour that people would rather have go unnoticed, would you agree with
DW: Very much so. I do think there’s a deep egotism in the
human nature that often makes us blind to how badly we are behaving vis a vis
our fellow human beings. There is also a deep need to be approved by others and
a capacity for compassion that keeps our large egos in check to some degree. I
think my plays do give due credit to these more positive aspects of human
nature, but I lot of the humour comes from our egotism.
DPJ: Do you sit and chuckle at the word processor as you
create the scenes where characters foibles are undone?
DW: Yes sometimes. I find that the things that come to me
spontaneously and make me chuckle are the things that work best on stage.
DPJ: Are there any great politicians around these days in
your opinion (Australian or from elsewhere)?
DW: I think there are very competent and clever politicians
around. Bill Clinton being one and Tony Blair being another. Whether they
deserve the word great is another matter. In Australia I don’t see any
politician at anywhere near the level of competence of those two.
DPJ: Who are the great men you have thought of when you’ve
written this play THE GREAT MAN?
DW: My deceased Great Man is totally fictional. There are
many great labor politicians from the Whitlam era who would never have behaved
DPJ: If you were in politics what portfolio would you most
like to handle?
DW: It’s the one that influences financial allocations to
all others and in this sense you could have a direct bearing on the direction
of the nation.
DPJ: Has your writing process changed much over the years or
is it much the same today as it was twenty years ago?
DW: Much the same.
DPJ: Do you have a web site on the net?
DPJ: Are there any sites on the net you find useful for
DW: Lots when I’m after information.
DPJ: Have you spent much time at the funerals of
DPJ: It is a sad event when someone has died, maybe it’s
also the most real or telling event in a persons life because now they’re gone
they can no longer defend themselves. Does this type of thinking come into play
with THE GREAT MAN?
DW: Yes. The funeral is the start of the final reputation
making process. And funerals are often used by people making their own
reputations rather than the reputation of the deceased, as is obviously going
to happen in this case.
DPJ: We have the saying “Ruled by our dead fathers”
do you think it’s correct these days with so many new things in the political
system – more women than before, less definition between political parties…?
Media driven issues… Is politics changing, or do you think it’s like the
church in as much as it takes a long long time to change?
DW: The power of the patriarchy is definitely on the
DPJ: What do you think of the Pope apologising for 2000
years of Catholic destruction of culture & spirituality?
DW: I wish John Howard would take note and do a little
apologising on our behalf.
DPJ: Do you think it is important for an Australian Prime
Minister to apologise for the destruction of Koori, Nunga, Murri and other
Australian Aboriginal families and cultures?
DPJ: Have you figured out what/who you’d like at your
funeral? A particular song or poem? If you had to choose a poem what would it
DW: I’m not sure I’d choose a poem. A bit of a drama maybe.
DPJ: You’ve been the subject of rather whimsical
‘controversy’ in the press media in the past with new work – it’s rather pithy
when it happens in my opinion given the amount of real issues that the
press/media could be covering, have you come to ignore that sort of thing
(suggested rifts between you and Wayne Harrison come to mind, scathing reviews
work) ? Has it enabled you to be a more determined writer or
does it have no effect over or upon you in the long haul?
DW: It has affected me a lot personally, but I hope it has
had no impact on my work, in that I keep writing the plays I want to write and
not the sort of plays that some critics would like me to write.
DPJ: You must be one of the most loved Australian
playwrights – does this also mean you are one of the least loved – polar
extremes being a part of human nature.
DW: I think that being popular is a sure focus for flack and
I’ve got my share of that.
DPJ: Do you think it’s likely that in fifty years a
playwright will use a similar premise for a play called THE GREAT WOMAN ? Based
on a conglomeration of our female politicians today?
DW: Yes, the day of The Great Man is certainly drawing to a
close, which is part of what the play is saying.
DPJ: Are you a person who would identify as ‘spiritual’?
DW: No, I’m not spiritual. I’m a materialist who believes
the Universe runs to an elegant set of laws which pay no particular attention
to the fate of humanity. Humanity must look after its own fate.
DPJ: What nourishes your creative spirit?
DW: My creative spirit is nourished by the wonder that
humanity ever came to exist and what a complicated lot we all are.
DPJ: Are you working on something new, a new play or screen
DW: Yes, a screenplay which Bryan Brown is producing.
Interview by David Jobling 13/3/00