Nick Enright
Nick Enright

(22 December 1950 – 30 March 2003) was an Australian dramatist and playwright.

Transcript ~ July 2, 2002

I’m at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Kensington and I’m talking with the writer Nick Enright. Hi Nick.

NE: G’day David.

COUNTRY MUSIC

DJ: You have a show that’s soon to open here at NIDA called Country Music; how long have you been working on Country Music?

NE: The students and I started improvising and kicking around ideas in September of last year and we workshopped the play for a few months and then I went away and wrote the piece and we’ve been rehearsing for two months, we open next week.

DJ: It sounds quite interesting because it’s a mix of a lot of the issues that are around in Australian society; that are around at the moment. What sort of issues are you touching on?

NE: Principally I suppose it’s the sense of what it is to be Australian now; in a country which is so divided and so full of tension and hostility really. I think like the students and like the two directors who are working on the show, I think we all feel that this is a crucial time for Australia because you have to take a position. I think it’s been true probably since the emergence of Pauline Hanson, that probably, the one positive contribution she made to the national discourse was to require all of us to define what it is that we actually believe about Australia, and I think that since the events of 2001 and now 2002 particularly in relation to border protection and refugees the whole country’s politicised and the sense of distress and concern that a lot of us feel about government policy and about the kind of country that we’ve become is probably the central idea at the heart of the play – so there is, there are four parallel stories running through the evening it’s quite a big night and it’s set in a fictional country town, one of the stories is about the detention centre which is in the town and an Iraqi man who escapes from that, and there’s an Aboriginal ghost story which underpins the whole piece which is really the sort of matrix that the rest of it sits in, and there’s a by-election a wedding, a couple of runaway teens, and uh, it’s a big night.

DJ: Sounds very Australian. Your description sounds very Australian. You mention an Aboriginal ghost story? Now in ‘A Man with five Children’ which you developed with students in, at WAPPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) in Perth, there was also a fellow who essentially became a ghost or a spirit by the end of the play – is this a running theme for you?

NE: Not consciously, ah, when I say that there’s an ‘Aboriginal ghost story’ there’s a story that happens in real time but it happens a hundred years ago, it’s a colonial story about the usurpation of land to make a coal mine and what that provokes in an Aboriginal man who is the kind of custodian of this piece of land. That story is real, it happens in real time but then it becomes a ghost story for the present so it’s both, it’s happening in two time frames, but yes in ‘Man with five children’, the young Malaysian, Chinese, boy who disappeared comes back and we never know whether he is literally a ghost or whether he is a projection of the consciousness of the man who sent him (away) but maybe it is a theme I’ll have to think about that.

DJ: I’m interested too because you have worked with students a lot of the time, you did ‘Summer Rain’ in 1983 with NIDA students, and now ‘Country Music’,’ A Man with Five Children’ was originally done with WAPPA students is there a major difference between working with large groups of students and sitting at home writing something that’s coming from your, specifically just from you?

NE: There’s an enormous difference particularly in the case of this piece, not so much in the case of ‘Summer Rain’ which was written on those students but nonetheless it was constructed at home, this one has absolutely grown out of the ideas and the concerns of the students and even though a lot of the narrative ideas were provided by me, there’s quite a considerable input from them into character development, into the stories, and indeed it was the students choice to, or the students passion about the detainees that got that story into the play. So, their contribution is enormous.

DJ: That’s interesting so it’s as much a reflection where their heads are at-

NE: Oh indeed, in fact the first question that we asked them the first day we met was, “What is it to be an Australian now, at this point in time?” and they all just had the floor no one was allowed to question them, each of them could speak for as long as they wanted to about what it felt like to be Australian.

DJ: So are you the sort of writer that sits and takes notes while that’s happening or do you just listen very carefully and go away and think about it?

NE: In that case I took notes and one of the things that I did much later was reflect back to them things that they’d said, so we could see how much of it had found its way into the play.

DJ: What was that like? Were they surprised when you started to reflect back?

NE: Um yes and I think they were pleased. They could already see that a lot of the things they’d expressed were already in the play and indeed lines from improvisations had found their way into the play but when they realised the point at which we’d started when we didn’t even know what the stories were going to be we were just talking about Australia and then when we got to rehearsal where there’s this document called a play and they could say “Oh yes, because three or four of us expressed these views that took form as a story”.

DJ: So what’s it like then to be at home thinking I’ve got this idea, I’m going to sit down I’m going to write a play, and is that what happens with you or does someone whisper in your ear, “Nick why don’t you write this, why don’t you look at the Lee Leigh murder,” for example? How does that happen?

NE: Err, it’s pretty much one from column A and one from column B. There’ll be projects like ‘Property of the Clan’ and ‘Blackrock’ which it turned into, which were suggested by a company. And indeed vigorously resisted by me. And there are other ideas like ‘A Man with Five Children’ that just come in to your head and you kick them around until they’re ready to be written.

DJ: Let’s just go back. Why did you “vigorously resist” the ‘Property of the Clan’?

NE: The proposal to write a play about not to write a play about the Lee Leigh case but to write a play using that material came from Brian Joyce who was running Freewheels which was and still is a  Community Theatre company in Newcastle (New South Wales) and Brian had asked me to write ‘a play’ and I said, “Why don’t you suggest a subject” and he said “Lee Leigh” and I said “You’ve got to be mad I wouldn’t touch it because the only response I could have is a very conventional one of shock and anger and they’re not good starting points for a play, and he said “You don’t understand, there’s a whole group of kids in this community whose views and deepest feelings haven’t been expressed everything was closed off, no one was, there was no discussion, the community just went to ground and he said that he felt that a play would be a way of ventilating for those kids because when  wrote the play it was only two or three years after those real events  an so the agreement  was that we wouldn’t do a play where those events were dramatised but we would create an event that was about a group of kids who were witnesses to a parallel sort of event and I’m very glad that he persuaded me because it was a wonderful exercise.

DJ: And so what about then taking it from the stage and turning it into a film? What process did you go through there?

NE: Well the material went through several processes. First was ‘Property of the Clan’ which is a very simple theatre-in-education play for four actors and no scenery. Where inevitably you focused on the kids, they were young actors, there were some older characters in it but essentially it was about a group of young teenagers. And then when there was interest from various main stage companies in the material they said “why don’t you just build up the roles of the adults” and I thought well I’d rather write a new play and the chance of creating a community on stage with a large group of actors and having parent child relationships and rather more complex class relationships was too good to resist so I wrote ‘Blackrock’ which in many ways is a different play even though the central triad is more or less the same. I mean even the narrative is quite different. And then when the opportunity came to rework it as a film the attraction of that was that the environment of the play is essentially visual and there’s a fantastic contradiction, visual contradiction in that world, which in the theatre you can only suggest but on film you can put the smoke stacks the steel works next to the surfing beach which is exactly what happens in Newcastle so you see these two violently oppositional worlds and I thought that was a really good environment in which to tell a screen story. And I wanted to have a crack at translating the narrative into film terms and again it probably differs from the play of ‘Blackrock’ as much as ‘Blackrock’ differs from ‘Property of the Clan’ even though it’s recognisably from the play the narrative is quite different the characters have different weight and are characters that have been expanded and crucially of course we brought the girl, Tracey, the murdered girl onto the screen so she was a presence, whereas in the play of course she never appears.

MONGRELS

DJ: I’m starting to think now of ‘Mongrels’ too, a very strong play about Australian larrikinism and writing and the relationship between a couple of writers over a long period of time. Was that something that was based in reality or was that something that came from your head?

NE: Well the jumping off point was a friendship which was a real friendship a historical friendship between Jim McNeil and Peter Kenna who were two quite major figures in the renaissance of Australian playwriting in the seventies and eighties and in reality they were friends, they weren’t close friends but they got on well and they admired each other’s work. But they were chalk and cheese. McNeil who had spent many years in prison on charges of armed robbery and various things and Peter Kenna who was physically very frail
spiritually and emotionally incredibly strong and lived with a kidney disease for most of his life in fact was on a dialysis until he had a transplant and they were such fantastic opposing archetypes that I took the essence of those two people and turned them into fictional characters and gave them a kind of antagonistic relationship but inevitably what happens when you do those things is that reality is left behind and they become aspects of yourself, and people took great glee in identifying them as characters and identifying quite
inaccurately the other people in the play as real people. Where as in fact the truth is they were versions of me.

DJ: So you’re not a David Williamson by any stretch of the
imagination but in terms of process in terms of creating conglomerates of
people and in some cases maybe throwing the cat amongst the pigeons as far as
all his mates are concerned kind of looking over their shoulder wondering if
you’re taking notes while you’re having dinner in their backyard around the
barbie or something..

NE: Mmm

DJ: You’re really looking into yourself and finding where
would this part of you be if this happened..

NE: Yeah!

DJ: These circumstances..

NE: Exactly like the process of acting you know that it’s
the ‘what if’ you know, ‘what if?’ instead of it being this shape and this size
and this gender you know, I had these thoughts, and these feeling but in
another body or in another profession, another career. Um, certainly in the
case of ‘Mongrels’ it would be silly to deny that those two are based on two
real people and I did use some of the biographical facts of those two lives,
certainly stuff that was on the public record but that’s unusual for me, that’s
quite unusual. The ‘Blackrock’ material that we were talking about, ‘The
property of the Clan’ material was widely an inaccurately thought to be a sort
of documentary account of a whole lot of real people, in fact they’re all
invented. And even the murderer is as unlike the real murderer of the real
girl, of Lee Leigh is as unlike that character as is possible to imagine.

DJ: So jumping again, forward in time, possibly I might be
confused but there’s also deep down inside of you a young Liza Minnelli?

NE: Well that’s a very good point because that’s a show
that’s full of very real people but they still have to be invented I mean even
if the characters called Judy Garland or Liza Minnelli or in deed Peter Allen,
you’ve got all that documentary material available to you but they are still
characters in a narrative, you know, the way they express themselves and the
things they do are to some degree out of your own head. I know that sound’s
ridiculous because a life which is as well documented as Peter Allen’s you
think all you have to do is just put it on the stage but ultimately he is a
fictional character called Peter Allen.

DJ: I’ve wanted to say to you since seeing it I don’t know
how long ago, it was on at Her Majesty’s when Her Majesty’s was Her Majesty-

NE: It was four years ago.

DJ: Four years ago huh? You are the singular Australian
writer possibly the  singular writer in
the world (?) to put two HIV+ men on stage together singing a love song that
everybody loves, certainly all Australian’s love ‘I honestly love you’ the old
Olivia Newton John song, and when I saw it and sat there in tears while that
was happening I looked as you do when you’re involved in theatre, I looked up
and down the row at all of the middle-aged and older people who were also sitting
there in tears –

NE: And they absolutely went with it, yeah. Yeah. It’s
helped of course by the fact that the song is so wonderful ahm, and that it was
very well played and extremely well directed, I mean, particularly that
relationship and it didn’t take any special courage to do that because that was
you know, I mean the documentary truth was that he lost Greg you know, to AIDS
in the eighties and that man was the great love of his life. I thought we
pulled some punches in the show and there were a lot of battles about it
because I thought even though that relationship was as truthfully represented
as we could in the amount of stage time as we had it did kind of feel as though
Peter Allen had suddenly become gay you know having been with Liza Minnelli
where as you know in fact he was gay from the age of thirteen or fourteen. It
was the relationship with Liza that was the aberration rather than the other
way round and he was of course extremely promiscuous and the material the
songs, the lyrics are actually about dropping people, being dropped, moving on,
getting over relationships you know, and I think there’s a rawness to the
writing that we could’ve addressed more a lot of material got cut which was
investigated that idea further because I thought it was interesting to see
someone  who was a kind of root-rat who
then falls in love-

DJ: Yeah! It’s a really beautiful piece. I’ve got to say
that ‘The Boy from Oz’ is my favourite Nick Enright.

NE: Ah.

DJ: Because  it’s, you
know I remember a lot of those events and I guess it’s  a happy thing but it’s also got incredible
sadness in it and I just think that it’s just amazing to watch that sort of
thing; and also it’s an Australian musical you know?

NE: In deed but it was a very positive and yeah that was
everyone you know that wasn’t me I mean you know the person who writes the book in a musical is not really a playwright
in the sense that when you write a play, it’s true, I mean the play writing is
actually done by the director and the writer and the choreographer and the
designer, you know, it’s a communal effort. But I do think that what we
collectively achieved with these fabulous actors particularly with Todd was
something that was heartfelt but which didn’t depress you, which said finally
that the spirit of somebody lives on. The premise of the show was always, from
the time that I started to work on it a man earning the right to stand in the
middle of the stage  wearing plain black
pants and a plain white shirt and ‘Tentterfield Saddler’ and you felt that
there was a completely open channel between him and his experience o n the one
hand and then the audience on the other that you know that this is who I am
there are all the things that have happened to me, you know; my father was a
drunk, and he killed himself, he married a girl with an interesting face, all
of that stuff, and also the notion that he’s finally homeless, which is in the
song, you know that he’s a traveller, that he keeps moving and incredibly
honest and wonderful song..

DJ: It’s like the journey from ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ to ‘I
still call Australia home’

NE: Yeah.

DJ: Yeah, definitely-

NE: But he always wanted Tenterfield Saddler to be in that
point of the show that really does end the show I mean ‘Rio’ was just a sort of
you know-

DJ: Bit of fluff?

NE: Bit of fluff at the end and interesting the audience it
never quite took fire because the audience were in a different, I mean it was
fun.. it was.. you know people enjoyed it; we always said we’d give them Rio
and they’ll go crazy but in fact they wanted to be in the Tenterfield Saddler
mode.

DJ: It was very emotional. I mean it’s very emotional
journey and you basically had this collection of icons on stage that I think
everyone was so excited.. Kristy Hinze??

NE: Amphlett, Crissy Amphlett  But you know the thing about the material
once again this words come up in this conversation before every piece that’s worth
doing is based on a fundamental contradiction and what you need to do is crack
that contradiction because our lives are full of oppositions and contrary
forces and what fascinated me from the start about Peter Allen and this is only
the show that I chose to write, another writer would have found another set of
values in the material but what fascinated me from the get go was that Peter
Allen the performer was as funny and as outrageous and as wicked an as sensual
and as flamboyant as he wanted to be and never showed any kind of vulnerability
you know, that was the contradiction for the audience what he sang the songs are
all about pain and he’d do these songs and I mean like ‘Two little boys’ which
was you know beautiful song which we didn’t get use in the show and they’re
heartbreaking and he finishes and he say’s “Well did ya like that?” You know
and it’s ‘Aaah you’re all so sad, you’re all such sooks and he mocks the
emotion that he’s just generated and I think that’s really interesting

DJ: Do you think that’s an Australian thing?

NE: Yes. Yes. Quintessentially Australian and one of the
reasons why the Americans loved hiom was that he wasn’t you know a falsely
sincere, “I love you all very much, and you’re all so beautiful, this is the
best night I’ve ever had…” I mean he would slag the audience you know, and
they loved that they loved the sense that he was you know taking the piss all
the time

DJ: Almost a Dame Edna without a frock.

NE: Absolutely that’s a very good comparison. It’s a very
similar relationship with the audience and I think the Americans similarly
respond to Barry Humphries in that way.

DJ: Are you re-writing ‘Boy from Oz’ for America?

NE: No I’m not with the project anymore. I don’t even know
where they are I think they had a commitment from Hugh Jackman to do it at the
end of this coming season and I don’t know where that is now. But it’s another
whole team doing the show.

DJ: Right, does it, will it say anywhere based on the
original play blahdy blah Nick Enright or?

NE: I don’t know. That’s yet to be determined It’s all
perfectly amicable but they have a new director and a new writer  and a whole new production and in a way it
was kind of inevitable cause what they want to do of course is show case the
songs that’s the primary reason for doing the show, but  for the Americans even though there were a
whole group of people that loved him he was never the big star that he is here where
as the Australian version is based on the fact that he walks onto the stage and
says “hello Sydney” or “Hello Melbourne” and we’re all prepared to buy the fact
that this is Peter Allen come back to life where as in America you could not do
that show and you’ve got to treat Judy Garland very differently and Liza
Minnelli very differently you know the relative weight of those relationships
has to be looked at and I felt it was better, you know for someone to start
fresh

NE: So is it an American writer and American team
essentially

NE: Yep.

DJ: Yeah.

NE: Michael Schermann who wrote ‘Rent’ is writing the book I
think that is good.

DJ: Yeah, so the HIV component is going to be intact…

NE: Oh absolutely probably even stronger I would say

DJ: Okay

NE: And there won’t be so worried about the promiscuity
because it’s you know, it’s less, he’s less of a cuddly teddy-bear for them

DJ: We’re sort of in America now ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’ how long
ago is that, 1992?

NE: That’s a long time ago, we’re doing all the old ones,
that’s more than ten years ago.

DJ: Well I mean, I guess, I suppose we’re doing all the old
ones because I mean I’ve known you for twenty years or first met you, you know,
twenty odd years ago, a little bit longer in fact so I, I can’t say I’ve seen
absolutely everything-

NE: You’ve done pretty well-

DJ: But I’ve seen a lot and I just remember the emotion and
the dilemma and you’re talking about contradictions and such and ‘Lorenzo’s
Oil’ does come to mind it’s something that is full of real pain and a different
sort of pain, that I think and maybe it’s your Australianness that has created
that somehow and you are talking about this stuff coming from inside yourself
so..

NE: I mean in that case the material was a gift because the
narrative which we scarcely altered at all you know ninety five percent of that
of the story of that film happens in the chronological order that it happened
in real life so the story was open and there to be done and those people who
gave us their full cooperation the Odone’s, Augusto and Michaela Odone the
characters played by Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon they made their lives and
Lorenzo’s life available to us and even though, you know, inevidably it’s
always a work of fiction finally we had so much material to draw on. And the
scientific basis of the story was completely factual. In fact we had an
obligation not to move from that. So in that case it would be hard to identify
what’s personal in the material. Obviously some of it is. I think I probably
beamed in on her in a very particular way. And had a very good rapport with
both the real woman and the actress who played her-

DJ: Ah I’ve got to touch you-

NE: (Laughs)

DJ: You had a good relationship with Susan Sarandon.

NE: Yeah. Good working relationship. I wouldn’t say we were
friends. We had a very good candid-

DJ: But how wonderful.

NE: Yeah, it was a thrill. You know it was great and Nick
Nolte was fantastic too but there was something about the writing of that role
that i could identify with even though George (Miller) and I wrote the whole
thing together I think once again it’s the divided soul that you always go for.
I responded to the fact that the real woman was both one of the most heroic
people that I have ever known and also probably one of the loopiest. And that’s
a really interesting combination. And one of the things which underpins the
film is that that kind of dedication and sacrifice though it’s ultimately very
noble doesn’t manifest itself as an ability it manifests itself as a kind of a
madness.

DJ: It’s obsession.

NE: Yeah it’s obsession. And that was certainly what George
and I, we’re both obsessive’s in our own ways; it’s what we responded to in the
material. What was interesting about them was not that they cared because any
parent cares about the fate of a child that’s a common-place. What was
interesting about them was that they applied their energies and their
intellects to finding a solution.

DJ: And that, do you see the parallel with yourself in that?
Using your intellect to find solutions? Because you’ve been and probably always
will be an actor and an acting teacher and you’ve imparted a great deal of
information on young actors and you know probably older actors too, but you’ve
been in those positions where you’ve assisted people find ways into themselves.
So I mean is that something that you think about?

NE: Oh I wouldn’t put myself in the same, anything like the
same league as those two. Certainly I think you’ve got to keep your brain
engaged in the task but I don’t think I’ve got anything like either the
capacity or the courage of those people. They were extraordinary. They are
extraordinary. She’s dead now but they are extraordinary people. (28;03) And
again one of the things that interested me was that they were, had their son
not been stricken with that disease they would have had a perfectly ordinary
comfortable middleclass life. He was a banker and you know they had a very nice
home and they travelled. You know, we would never have herd of them. They would
have just been a perfectly ordinary nice couple. And disaster happens and out
of it they find this extraordinary capacity to act.

DJ: Is that something that comes up in your work much do you
think?

NE: I don’t know. As you’ve observed from some of my answers
I’m not very good at finding common themes, it’s really for someone else to
explore those things. I mean I suppose I’m interested always in, in people
being tested. But I think that’s the condition of our lives. You know I think
we only become interesting when we are tested.

DJ: So it’s not like a Noel Coward sort of world where it’s
all kind of wit and fairly facile, there’s always a challenge…

NE: Yeah, well you know, I wish I could write as well as
Noel Coward. And you know they’re all based in sound psychology I suppose I’m
interested in, Williamson always said “Drama is people is people in trouble,”
and I suppose for me it’s you know, people being tested by extraordinary
circumstances and particularly latterly as with “Country Music” I do like to
push people to push the characters to extremes.

DJ: So what sort of extremes can we look forward to in
Country Music?

NE: There’s a life and death issue for a couple of people.
There’s a situation which has just happened at Woomera of course. There’s a
detainee on the run, who comes into contact with a whole lot of people in the
community and that forces some quite extreme reactions. There’s a kind of hunt
for this man and in the course of that a lot of relationships get unpicked.
There’s a by-election that creates huge hostilities and enmities. There’s the
payback spearing of a white landowner by an aboriginal. There’s reprisals,
there’s a massacre, so it’s a frothy light bubbly evening in the theatre. There
are a few jokes.

DJ: Is this a musical?

NE: No. No. It’s the music of this country. There’s a lot of underscore by a terrific young composer called Wei Han Liao has created a kind of a you know a soundscape. But no, there is a character who is a country singer who does, you know sings for a couple of minutes but no it’s not a musical.

DJ: Now this wouldn’t be a country singer similar to the
country singer from “Summer Rain” by any chance?

NE: No it’s an aboriginal country singer who comes to town
to be the surprise guest at a hen’s night and new readers join here –

DJ: Sounds very interesting The way to wind up I guess and let you go and
get on with your life; what’s next are you thinking ahead in terms of you have
got something else on the boil?

NE: I’m going to have a big rest. I’m going to the Northern Territory and do some teaching and then I’m going to go away and sit on a rock somewhere and look at the sea.

DJ: So are you going to write your memoirs?

NE: Oh god no. No no!

DJ: Don’t you think there’d be just so many people who’d be really interested.

NE: I’d like to write a book about the Australian theatre, I wouldn’t want to write a book about me, I’d love to write a book about the people I’ve known and the lives that I’ve witnessed because we don’t document that stuff enough. Julian Merrick has written what is apparently a very good book about Nimrod which is great, um, but no I have no interest in writing anything about my life.

DJ: I think that’s such a shame because you’re so full of good stories you know and maybe that’s the people you’ve seen and the places you’ve been that sort of thing. I mean you had even with Lorenzo’s Oil so long ago, you were nominated for an academy award, now you’d be one of the few Australian writers that was nominated for an Academy Award.

NE: Yeah but that’s just you know a bubble, that’s just something that happens.

DJ: But it’s such an interesting bubble.

NE: Yeah. I don’t know. Anyway someone else can write the book.

DJ: Well thank you very much, I wish you well, I hope you have a great time sitting on that beach

NE: Thank you

DJ: And I hope you have a marvellous time with Country Music

NE: Thanks David.

Country Music, NIDA

By Bryce Hallett, Parade Theatre,
July 19

July 22 2002

First things first. What is the new Parade Theatre at the
National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) like and does it do the job? The
striking building on Anzac Parade in Kensington has already won accolades for
its design and there’s little doubt that it will win ovations from audiences as
well.

The 730-seat playhouse succeeds brilliantly, not only in
terms of comfort and sightlines but in its intimate correlation between actor
and audience owing to its vertical space and horseshoe configuration. The
expansive stage is impressive and open to wonder. It is easily the best
playhouse for drama and chamber musicals in town, possibly Australia.

The Nancy Fairfax Foyer, housed in a soaring steel and glass
edifice with an open stairwell clinging to one side, invites a sense of
occasion without being the least bit intimidating. It sets an excitingly
dramatic tone.

The inaugural public event to open the theatre is the
sprawling Australian epic Country Music written by Nick Enright in
collaboration with NIDA’s third-year students. Set in the fictitious township
of Endeavour, it crams many personal and political stories and ideas into its
broad-brush canvas, and Enright uses a by-election to draw the picture
together.

The epic structure comprises five narratives, which duck and
weave one out of the other. Given the technical demands, Tony Knight and Julia
Cotton’s staging is swift and clear with arresting visuals by designers Hamish
Peters (set) and Katrina Adams (costumes) and a terrific score by Wei Han Liao.

The co-directors describe the piece, a work-in-progress, as
“a theatre poem, a dream play” which up to a point is true but the
script’s wavering quality, use of caricature and overripe metaphors make
Country Music something of an emblematic, heart-felt jamboree.

It’s an ambitious project and there’s a lot to get through
in the three-and-a-half hour evening. (There are two intervals.) There’s the
business of the buck’s night for the town’s young policeman and footy hero to
attend to as well as the hen’s night for his fiance, the daughter of the chief
of police.

Securing the entertainment for the respective shindigs
proves testing, and an ordeal for some, and much is made of who gets invited or
not.

Then there’s the Aboriginal country and western star who
makes a return visit to his old stamping ground, two teenagers seeking to
escape the town and an Iraqi asylum seeker who, denied the chance to stay by
the authorities, flees the wire-fenced detention centre on the outskirts of
Endeavour. Add to this mention of massacres and deep-buried sorrows and you
soon appreciate how large and topical is the play’s sweep.

The piece is lopsided, needs cutting and reshaping to better
explore its themes of alienation and acceptance. But it shows considerable
promise; the third act impresses and reaches a powerful climax. The talented
22-member cast gives committed performances.

While Country Music doesn’t offer much that’s theatrically
new it’s heartening to see such matters being so passionately aired, however
raw.

Until July 27

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/07/21/1026898946569.html