Julian Meyrick

Julian Meyrick

“Memorial” Is A Shattering Excavation Of The Scars Of War Through Poetry, Dance, And Mind Blowing Score

Arthur Danto, in his Analytic Philosophy of History, calls the common noun “scar” a “past-referring term.” In this way, language acknowledges the passing of time, representing verbally what happens to us physically. The mystery of appearance and disappearance in the world–the cycle of life and death–is caught in the warp and weft of how we speak, the soul made manifest by the word. Memorial is a large-scale performance piece drenched in a sense of time passed. Based on Alice Oswald’s poetic exploration of the Iliad (the precise, and again temporally charged, descriptor is “excavation”), it brings together a transcendent...

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The Great Australian Plays: “The Cake Man” And The Indigenous Mission Experience

In the introduction to her seminal book Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre, Mary Rose Casey observes: Indigenous Australian activists and artists have consistently utilized the potential for theatre… to create different frames…of Indigenous Australians…In a show like Basically Black (1972), the “gaze” as an expression of racial objectification was returned…Following this work, writers such as Robert Merritt, Kevin Gilbert, Gerry Bostock and Jack Davis individually and collectively altered the range of representations of Indigenous Australians in Australian theatres and writing. In doing so, they increased awareness of issues affecting Indigenous people and related those issues to [them] as human...

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The Great Australian Plays: Williamson, Hibberd, And The Better Angels Of Our Country’s Nature

Two of Australian theatre’s most celebrated artists are scientists. Their CVs may not be immediately recognizable. One is an engineer, an ex-thermodynamics lecturer, and holds a Masters degree in social psychology. The other is a medical doctor, a one-time hospital registrar, and a specialist in clinical immunology. Between them, they have written nearly 100 plays, some among the best known and most successful of the last 50 years. Both were born in the 1940s in regional Victoria, one in Bairnsdale, the other in Warracknabeal. Both were members of the legendary New Wave theatre company, the Australian Performing Group, otherwise...

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Melbourne’s La Mama Demonstrates The Value of Independent Theatre

This year Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre celebrates its 50th year of operation. In an interview for the company’s 20th anniversary, the founding director Betty Burstall said: The basic thing is the money. As it was originally posited, [La Mama] had no money. Now it has grants. But it is not dependent on its box office. It can’t be dictated to on economic grounds in any way. It’s administratively a one-man show. It’s not hampered by committees. It has an extreme flexibility: no one runs any line on theatre, or has any theoretical position on actors, writers, directors or anything....

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The Great Australian Plays: Sex, Poetry and “The Chapel Perilous”

When she died in 2002, The Age hailed Dorothy Hewett as “the grande dame of Australian literature” and gave a thumbnail sketch of her remarkable life as poet, dramatist, novelist, Communist Party activist and serial lover. Calling her a free spirit doesn’t come close to capturing the turbulent, at times self-destructive energy that marked Hewitt’s relationships and her work. In Wild Card (1990), an autobiography written at the prompting of another theatre maverick, Hal Porter, Hewett gave a taste of her feisty existence as a young woman working on the factory floor in the 1950s: I was sacked from...

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The Great Australian Plays: “The Front Room Boys” and New Wave Theatre

“Fucken boong”. With these words Australian theatre entered the swinging sixties – eight years after the decade began. The two profanities capture the spirit of rebellion that characterised a new generation of theatre artists. They are the last line of Alex Buzo’s play Norm and Ahmed (1968) and the actors who uttered them were prosecuted for obscenity when it was produced in Queensland and Victoria. The full County Court turned up to assess Norm and Ahmed’s performance in Melbourne. Only in retrospect does the police pursuit of stage drama look quaint. At the time, it was in deadly earnest,...

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“The Secret River”: Colonial Oppression on Australian Stages

One way of looking at a story is as a mental suitcase that brings together a bunch of actions that would be unintelligible as disparate events. Its basic job is twofold: first, to name them, then to order them. The naming can be confronting, akin to a biblical judgment. But if it doesn’t take place, then the story isn’t told. What happens then? Nothing good. Which is why one of the most powerful lines in this extraordinary play is when William Thornill, ex-convict lag and born riverman, takes part in a massacre of Hawkesbury Aboriginals, then tells his family...

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What It’s Like To Be A Theatre Director in Australia

For a theatre director, plays are like bulls: it doesn’t matter how fancy your cape work is, any one of them could kill you. When people ask: “What plays do you like to see?” I say: “Ones I don’t have to direct.” I’ve been directing since I was 16, so nearly 35 years. I’ve worked consistently, but haven’t clocked up many shows. That’s because I’ve done other things as well: been a historian, a dramaturge, a policy analyst, even a critic (for a few years, until I got sarky and gave it up). Theatre directors come in two kinds:...

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“Trainspotting” On Stage Brings a Disturbing Reality Vividly to Life

Irvine Welsh’s in-yer-face, anti-fairy tale of no-hope NEDs (non-educated delinquents), and the mega-highs and ultra-lows of skank (heroin) in Thatcherite Scotland, may now be seen by those who, when it first appeared, were no more than wee gobshites sucking at their mother’s tit. And if you think that’s offensive, perhaps this isn’t the show for you. Now a stage show touring nationally, Trainspotting was first a novel (1993), then a play, and a film (1996), with a sequel, T2 Trainspotting opening this week. The adaptations of this grunge classic reveal different qualities in each medium. The stories are fractured...

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The Great Australian Plays: “A Cheery Soul” Is Really A Theatrical Monster

In 2004, Melbourne Theatre Company, where I worked at the time, asked me to write a short history for their 50th anniversary. A battered box was duly wheeled into my office, containing material from previous celebrations and books of yellowing press clippings. And there was something else. In a plastic folder, I found carbon copies of 48 letters between Patrick White and then artistic director of the company, John Sumner. The correspondence extended over ten years, but the bulk concerned productions of two White plays, Season at Sarsaparilla (1962) and A Cheery Soul in (1963). If the Doll can...

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OzAsia Festival Brings A Global Perspective To Australia With Theatre And Dance

Sometimes the weather simply won’t cooperate. Between a state-wide blackout, monsoonal rain, and the worst winds ever, Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival, which run in October, faced a bumpy ride in its tenth anniversary year. For some, this meant missing out on Japanese choreographer Hiroaki Umeda’s pixelated video storm in Split Flow and Holistic Strata, canceled amid actual howling gales and pelting rain. Yet despite the meteorological conditions, the festival was a convincing celebration of the vitality of an Asia of which Australia is increasingly a part. For us, six performance works stood out for their bold placement of the body...

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The Great Australian Plays: “The Torrents,” “The Doll” and The Critical Mass of Australian Drama

In 1955, two plays, The Torrents by Oriel Gray and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler, shared first prize in a Playwrights Advisory Board Competition (about £200). Such competitions were a regular feature at the time: earnest, if limited attempts to kick-start Australian drama into life. Many Australians are familiar with the Doll. It is a frequently revived Australian play (the AusStage database lists over 150 professional productions). The Torrents is less well known, but is an important work for its type, if not for its individual qualities. Together, the two works mark a new horizon of...

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The Great Australian Plays: Speaking ‘Orstyrlian’ in “Rusty Bugles”

Rusty Bugles is a comedy-drama by Sumner Locke Elliot, one of the many talented writers to abandon Australia in the 1940s and 1950s in search of an artistic living overseas. First produced by Sydney’s Independent Theatre in 1948, it was (up until the appearance of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll six years later) the best known and most successful Australian play of its day, extensively touring the state capitals, the regions, and New Zealand. The play is set in the Northern Territory, in an army supply depot in middle-of-nowhere Mataranka, where a bunch of khaki cast-offs are doing what...

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What Are The Great Australian Plays? Part I

You could say that a canonical play is one where you’re the problem if you don’t like it. The formula critical judgement + physical repetition = classic fixes its value ahead of time. A canonical play is never bad, only badly received. The job of the canon-upholding critic is to instruct the audience in How to Appreciate Culture. Thank God that attitude is done with in our hyper-democratic, reflexive, post-modern world! Yet is it useful to retain some notion of a dramatic canon nevertheless? Periodically, I get lectured on the need to write plays “for an audience.” I always...

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Playwriting In Australia

The first Australian National Playwrights Centre (ANPC) was founded in 1973 – the age of bongs, thongs and social wrongs. Australian drama was by then well into its Biggest Renaissance Ever. The Pram Factory and Nimrod Theatre had been going for three years, La Mama for five. Whitlam had doubled the arts budget and “Nugget” Coombs, the first Chair of the Australia Council, was managing the ballooning expectations this gave rise to. The year before, David Williamson’s The Removalists won the UK’s George Devine playwriting award. Three years before, Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed was in court in Victoria...

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Terrorism, Truth, and Trust – How Dramaturgy Informs Real Life

Drama and its core principles are to be found in theatres while the real world goes on outside, right? Wrong. And recent events bear this out. Dramaturgy is the art of managing events in time for the benefit of their greater meaning and impact: if drama is the substance of those events, dramaturgy is about wrestling them into temporal shape, of ensuring they are dramatic. It doesn’t stand outside the drama – but is part of it, invisible most of the time. Still, it plays a pivotal role. It is important to acknowledge, for example, the Islamic State’s beheading...

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