Australian Drama

Australian Drama #

Besides dance, our most primitive art form is re-enactment - role playing. Inca Clendinnen’s Dancing with Strangers illustrates the significance of origins in understanding a new nation’s first encounters with its natives determining future characteristics and development.

Drama thrives on conflict, creating tension and suspense, waiting for resolution.

Plays are never meant to be just read; the text is merely the blue print or skeleton of a work of drama and what gives it body, shape or flesh and blood is live performance. In the hands of a good director, the actor’s words and actions leap off the page.

Performance also relies on sub-text to convey meaning, often sub-consciously. Linguists agree that communication is 93% non-verbal and only 7% verbal. Especially in drama, body language through stance, position, deportment, facial expression, posture and thousands of subtle features convey meaning. Then there are the other factors, such as staging, props, sound effects, lighting and costumes that influence how a play derives meaning. These are factors that must valued and the director’s role is over riding in determining how a play is presented and received by a live pulsating audience.

Each performance is a new interpretation depending on the nature of the audience, the moods of the actors…….Film productions tend to be more permanent. Human communication is largely non verbal. The determining interpretive factors in live productions are visual, spatial, aural and spectacle.

Most early Plays were British manuscripts or based on them until the 1950’s when “Summer of the 17th Doll” by Ray Lawler allowed the Australian cadence, vernacular and issues to be performed on stage. This play documents the transformation from an emphasis on rough raw ocker physical heroes to more cultural urbane characters and cosmopolitan issues. Since then many other playwrights have given us our own predicaments and voices including David Williamson, Alex Buzo, ….

John Bell grew up in the dusty cultural landscape of post war Australia. In the 1970’s just before Whitlam, there was a swing toward cultural nationalism. David Williamson and Alex Buzo promised to tell our stories in our accents with our voices. Theatre had become too plush, comfortable, formal and frozen. It needed to be livened up; liberated.

There are many voices in Australian theatre today, but starting with Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and some 50 Williamson’s plays, the voice and cadences of the Anglo Celtic middle classes of Australia finally got a hearing.

David Williamson particularly, hated by the “elite” critics but loved by the multitude, is often regarded as Australia’s answer to Shakespeare in that he captures the essence of our age and provides a mirror not only to its issues, but gives voice to our national character. His talent of changing the modality of his voices compares to Shakespeare, Donne, Browning and Eliot.

His play The Removalist, raised the thorny concerns of creeping corruption that permeates society at all levels and became the catalyst in tackling the issue of institutional corruption.

Much of our history becomes tainted by posionous internicine conflicts distorting history. Good literature relies on truth telling, showing us who we are. Frequently we are disappointed and shoot the messanger or send them packing overseas or into oblivion.

The first Australian dramatic production was performed by convicts in Sydney, 1789, a year after landing, called George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.

The first theatre was opened in Sydney by Robert Sidway in 1796.

In 1833 The Theatre Royal is founded.

In 1835, The Bandit of the Rhine, by E. H. Thomas was the first play published in book form (now lost).

The first play, written, published and staged, by a native born playwright was Charles Harpur’s The Bushranger, a verse play in five acts in 1853.

A timeline of Australian History and Culture can be found here:

Advance Australia was staged at the Princess Theatre in Bendigo on Saturday 3 July 1920. It was written by a local Catholic priest, John Joseph Kennedy. The play was strongly anti-imperialist and intensely Australian, and the performance created a national furore. The drama follows a family’s experience during the First World War. The mother has lost her husband in the Boer War. She asks her sons:

“Why should you offer yourselves as cannon fodder because Imperial megalomaniacs quarrel?”

Her sons, though, volunteer for service and one is killed.

A lengthy and positive review, highlighting pieces of dialogue, was published in the Bendigo Advertiser on Monday 5 July 1920. This precipitated a hastily organised protest meeting at the Bendigo Beehive Exchange that evening.

A larger ‘indignation’ meeting at the Bendigo Town Hall, carried a motion expressing:

“detestation and abhorrence of the disloyal sentiments uttered in the play… and.. emphatic disapproval of the mendacious and dastardly reflections on the English soldiers.

One speaker, Chaplain Captain Dorman, attacked the play for depicting the English as degenerate and effeminate. Another speaker challenged the playwright’s view that the British looked upon Australians as an inferior class. A message was read from the Prime Minister Billy Hughes condemning the play as thinly disguised Sinn Fein propaganda.

None of the speakers had seen the play and relied for their views on the newspaper report.

Meanwhile, outside the Town Hall, a large group of supporters of the play gathered and gave three cheers for Melbourne’s Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix, for Father Kennedy, for Home Rule and for Ireland.

The author, Father Kennedy, had himself served as a chaplain during the war and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1916 for conspicuous gallantry in action at the battle of Fromelles. He had repeatedly returned to the frontline trenches under heavy shell fire to rescue the wounded.

The Battle of Fromelles was a disaster, with 5,533 Australian casualties in a single night. Father Kennedy’s experiences of this futile carnage formed the basis of his play.

In the aftermath of the failed Irish Easter Rising of 1916, and the subsequent battle for Irish independence, it was a particularly volatile time in relations between the British Government and Irish republicans, and this was mirrored in Australia.

The play was never staged again and the script appears to be lost. Perhaps it will turn up some day.

State Library of Melbourne:

Characteristics of Australian Drama #

  1. Democratic spirit of egalitarianism. About the life of ordinary people. Australians appear to relate to each other as equals and can have a healthy disrespect for vaunted arrogated authority. Coetzee was attracted by the free and generous spirit of the people and its egalitarianism as quite unique in the world.

  2. Urban vs Rural; Sydney & the Bush.

Instead of nature being identified with god, Henry Lawson depicted the “hell” pioneers had to endure. The Bush is seen as Scourge; it turns people eccentric, drives them mad - ‘Past carin’.

Banjo Paterson admonished Lawson for his blindness to the romance and beauty of bush life.

Coetzee feels he has a strong pull toward the land and the landscape which appears to have a mysterious dwarfing power over people.

Keating: “if you don’t live in Sydney you’re just camping out”.

  1. Mateship - The mateship depicted in most stories is a fragile one, less based on mutual support than on a refuge from despair.

  2. Derivative nature of overseas influence:

Early composers were imitative and derivative. This means they depicted Australia in British terms. Painters portrayed Australian scenes as they were in England while writers modelled their descriptions of the landscape using the styles and language of English Writers.

  1. Australians often dominated by cultural cringe of commercial theatre.

  2. Until the 1950’s few distinctive middle class idioms presented on stage.

  3. Move from naturalism of 1950’s to:

  • mixture of surrealism, Absurd,
  • Brechtian Epic realism & distinctive montage effects
  1. Role of music, eg:
  • Summer of 17 (th) Doll radio

  • Away Mendelssohn

  • Signal Driver Vaudeville

  • Strictly Ballroom theatricality

  1. Sardonic laconic humour/expressions,
  • idioms. grimly jocular, bitter mockery, cynical.
  1. Non- verbal physicality of Actor’s performance.

Summer of the 17th Doll - Ray Lawler #

Though Australian poets and novelists had achieved a degree of world stature, virtually no plays before 1955 merited serious consideration. “The Doll” became the first genuine threatrical work of art about real Ausralian characters at work and play with universal ramifications.

Lawler’s skill was evident in his ability to portray complex recognisable characters accurately, manage the exposition unobtrusively, manage exits and entrances smoothly, writng dialogue economically and telling - revealing character and furthering plot incidentally - evoking the natural Aussie cadences in slang and accents.

We explore the tragedy of the common man - essentially good people brought down by their fatal flaw – false pride of masculinity for Roo, romantic, nostalgic idealism for Olive.

The language reveals the inarticulateness of the characters yet the intensity of their emotions become evident through actions, body language and frustrated violence – the smashing of the doll at the end and Olive’s breakdown.

Summer of the 17th Doll was universally acclaimed in Melbourne, Sydney and London, but not America. Perhaps the language failed to resonate. The Aussie low brow, wry, sardonic, yet affectionate put-downs were too subtle:

Barney: “What do you need vinegar for? You’re sour enough already”.

Or to Roo: “You pigheaded mug” is an effective affection, not an insult. Themes include the self-reliance of male ego, the primitive theory of the fittest, conflicting with the whole culture of mateship.

For Olive, the refusal to accept the inevitability of change – the ravages of growing up, confronting your illusions and accepting your responsibilities.

One Day of the Year - Alan Seymour #

Anzac Day, April 25th has been a national holiday from WWI, commemorating Australia’s Baptism of Fire By 1958 it had lost a lot of its original significance, mainly a day of heavy drinking and gambling with Two-Up.

While the play appears critical, it can also be interpretated as a subtle and unexpected appreciation of Anzac Day. The revolt of Hughie is against his unaccomplished, middle-aged, stubborn, proud and insular father. Alf, a returned soldier celebrating Anzac Day as his one opportunity to show that he is: “as good as a man as them” (Bloody Poms or Jumped up Aussies).

Hughie’s reasoning is that Anzac Day has become “one long grog-up”. He cites the following reasons:

  1. The public’s ignorance of most people as to what really happened at Gallipoli and what the day actually meant.
  2. Those who were there don’t know the full story, only what they , one man’ view from a trench. Contemporary Historians have a more objective view.
  3. Why glorify such a ridiculous Campaign? The bloody Pom, pushed those men up those cliffs knowing it was suicide. While they were brave to follow such a ridiculous order - but can give no credit in wasting their lives. Sure they had guts, but the day - it’s a mug’s day.
  4. War is such a wasteful damaging concept, we should not air and revere it nationally, but rather forget it and be ashamed you took part in it.

Alf’s arguments are worth listening to:

  1. It’s the ordinary man’s right to feel proud of himself.
  2. It’s not a soldier’s march; it’s a mate’s march, doing what had to be done.
  3. We’re not celebrating a victory, but a defeat. It is courageous and noble if we can admit a defeat.
  4. “Where’s your heart, Hughie?” Alf is purely emotional - a feeling created by the battle.

While the play ends without resolving the conflict, Wacka, a reticent original Anzac, attempts a compromise to reconcile father and son:

To Hughie: “give the old blokes a bit of a go sometimes son”.

To Alf: “He’s got the right to think and say what he likes”

Anzac Day’s revival could be attributed to Bob Hawke’s government flying surviving veterans to celebrate the 75th anniversary in 1990. Later, Howard and Abbott in 2015 pumped new blood and money into the day to promote war fervour.

Paul Daley feels we should tease out the complexity of – and, yes, the urgent need to contest – all things Anzac, looking beyond the sentimentality and myth too often attached to Australian war commemoration.

Teaching that “we live in the greatest country on Earth” is not history. It’s jingoistic nationalism. Ironically, it’s also an approach more aligned with the standards for history education in the Chinese national curriculum than the histories being taught and discussed in Australian classrooms as we speak.

Alan Seymour’s groundbreaking play The One Day of the Year, written in 1958 when Alan was 31, was famously rejected in 1960 by the very first Adelaide Festival as being too controversial. An amateur company produced the work in that city in the same year, and in Sydney, 1961, the first professional production earned Alan death threats. He left Australia for a successful career in London with the BBC. He returned in 1995 and died shortly after.

It is now one of the great cornerstones of the Australian theatre. Its nominal subject is ANZAC Day and the limits of Australian mateship and masculinity.

Anzac Day, April 25th has been a national holiday from WWI, commemorating Australia’s Baptism of Fire By 1958 it had lost a lot of its original significance, mainly a day of heavy drinking and gambling with Two-Up.

Former Education Minister Alan Tudge suggested that some things, such as Anzac Day, are sacred and beyond critical inquiry.

Film; Gallipoli -

Patrick White #

Signal Driver #

A Morality Play for the Times - With an Introduction by Neil Armfield. First produced 5 March 1982, at the Playhouse, Adelaide.

Signal Driver has only two pairs of characters. There are two “timeless, supernatural beings” – presented as utter derelicts (“a pair of super deros”, White suggests). And there is an earthbound couple: Theo and Ivy Vokes. Fairly plain folk. We could see it as a response to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It can also be compared to W.B. Yeats’ poems about Byzantium and especially his predictions in Lapus Lazuli regarding the decline of the West and the rise of the Oriental civilisations.

The scene is always the same: a public transport shelter, which serves first as a tram and later as a bus stop.

Act I takes place in the 1920s, Act II around 1950, Act III in contemporary times (1980’s). Behind the shelter the city skyline grows, to suggest the changes.

The tram or bus stop is a place of escape, but neither Theo nor Ivy can take advantage. Each time opportunity arises – whenever a tram or bus comes by – , they fail to signal to the driver, to get him to stop and pick them up. Much of life thus passes them by, as does opportunity, hope, the possibility of something new and different.

They decide early on: “sentimentality’s a dead loss.” But they aren’t happy with their lives, or with each other. They make gestures of escape, but the gesture never even goes far enough to catch the attention of the drivers that go past.

They have some success – Ivy, calling herself Jasmine has some success in the antique trade (“slumming for phoney antiques”, Theo describes it).

They have children. But it doesn’t help. They continue to go back to the shelter, watching the busses go by: “The shelter’s about all we got left of our real lives.”

By the end they recognize that: *“We never succeeded in escaping.” They still make futile gestures, but they have grown old:

This is perhaps White’s most prophetic cautionary tale raising issues of the decline of western civilisation, illustrated by images of rickshaws carrying Asians drawn by Australians runners.

New Wave push #

The 1970s, launched playwrights such as David Williamson, John Romeril, Dorothy Hewett and Jack Hibberd, ‘make it Australian’ has been a by-word of our local theatre. La Mama and many other local boutique theatres became the waterhed of many budding playwrights.

Alex Buzo #

Born in Sydney in 1944, educated at the Armidale School and then the International School in Geneva and the University of New South Wales, Buzo became a prolific and popular writer in many genres, but especially plays reflecting contentious issues of Australian culture from the perspective of a second generation migrant.

The mirror he depicted Australian society was often not a welcome one.

Norm and Ahmed #

A rather unflattering view of Aussie ockerism with all the platitudes of defensive, insecure but aggressive nationalism. The “Norms” of our society display a vague patriotism laced with feelings of inferiority/superiority easily threatened by foreigners. No wonder interest in Buzo’s plays have waned.

Macquarie #

In 1971, Buzo took a new look at the state of Australia in 1810, after the Rum Rebellion with a new Governor with his own regiment attempted to restore law and order by reining in the haughty, entrenched and corrupt Rum Corps.

Macquarie made some headway in liberal reforms; stamping out the trade in rum, improving morale by raising emancipists dignity and value through equality of opportunity and appointments to high office, ambitious programs of infrastructure of roads, bridges, and Government Buildings designed by a former convict Francis Greenaway. To keep currency in the colony he imaginatively had Spanish coins punched to create a holey dollar with the dump valued at five cents.

The reactionaries, led by the cynical “flogging parson” Samuel Marsden and others undermined his achievements claiming that man’s essential depravity could only be restrained with severe punishment and exclusion – once a convict; always a convict. They railed against his extravagant expenditure on government works, which they claimed would be better spent by the elite faux aristocrats.

Buzo raises fundamental dialectical questions regarding the contest for power; is it for the betterment of society or for selfish interests? In the political game, are the cards stacked against compassionate high - principled players? Do liberal idealists always lose to powerful reactionary forces?

Buzo also questions the unscrupulous tactics used by the privileged to manipulate and brain wash the masses through labelling, name calling and casuistry - turning vice into virtue, greed into patriotism. Ultimately the fickle and gullible masses were easy prey for the superior but specious propaganda of the upper classes. People side against their own best interest.

Eleven years later Macquarie was recalled in disgrace. History rewarded him as the “Father of Australia” even though lately, questions have been raised about his part in the the Appin Massacre of 1815.

David Williamson #

Perhaps one of the most controversial writer in Australia today due to his scathing and vitriolic portrayals of Australians of all walks of life. Deified by some as the Shakespeare of Australia, but reviled by the elitist cultural gatekeepers – theatre critics - he is just a slick populist, writing entertainment for the masses.

Rising to his own defence, in a calm, considered and measured response, David Williamson had this to say:

“Elites” of any epoch have always made the judgement as to what is “serious” art and what is trivial entertainment. The problem is they’re often wrong. In his brilliant book called Serious Art, the philosopher John Passmore shows just how difficult it is to decide what is serious art and what isn’t. He gives examples of how time and time again the serious art anointed by one epoch’s elites is the pretentious and forgotten art of the next epoch and how the entertainment of one epoch becomes the venerated art of the next.

When Williamson left Melbourne for Sydney, Melbournians rejected him, while Sydney-siders idolised him; but when he had the audacity to satirise Sydney’s obsession with property, money and position, and then had the temerity to re-locate to Queensland, Sydney also disparaged his achievements.

We don’t like prophets who reflect the flaws of our society, in a mirror, too accurately. Like the Queen in Snow White hearing the mirror tell her that Snow White is the fairest of them all, the mirror cracks.

It remains my considered contention that plays like The Removalists, Don’s Party, The Club, Dead White Males and many others will pass the test of time and become National Treasures.

Overview of the The Removalists: #

A small suburban Police Station in Melbourne.

A newly trained recruit, Ross introduces himself to a Senior Sergeant, who thrives on flaunting his superior status to disparage all the newfangled theories of the nervous, naïve and inexperienced trainee. Simmonds immediately establishes his superiority and seniority by advising Ross his real training will come from Simmonds on the job experience. To gain power, Simmonds pries into Ross’s private life, including his family and social life.

Two sisters arrive to report an incident of domestic violence, allowing Simmonds to demonstrate his capability. Simmonds, takes charge, indicating a keen interest in examining the bruising in a lecherous manner. Keen to demonstrate his control of the situation he advises the younger victim, Fiona, to leave her husband and arranges for a removalist to come to the apartment on Friday night when her husband Kenny generally goes out for a night with the boys.

After the Removalist arrives, Kenny unexpectantly come home, outraged that Fiona intends to leave taking some furniture with her. During the ensuing conflict, Kenny has violent clashes with the Removalist and the two police officers.

Because of his threatening violence, Kenny is tied to a door where he continues to verbally abuse all. In an attempt to silence him, both police beat him. After the Removalist and the women leave, Kenny manages to get under Simmonds skin to the point where the beatings get more and more vicious. After Ross hits him hard, it appears Kenny is dead. The two police blame each other. When Kenny suddenly revives, they are all relieved and continue their tough guy banter. They give Kenny a beer, but in the midst of their celebration, Kenny suddenly slumps and dies.

The two police now begin to bash each other up to create the impression they had been attacked by Kenny. Simmonds attempts to put all the blame on Ross. The End.

Louis Nowra #


The 1996 Film included early versions of our top actors: Toni Collette, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Rachel Griffiths, David Wenham, Pamela Rabe, Jackie Weaver…

Film – a familiar medium for young people to lift him off the printed page. The silver screen is a more effective medium to depict the craft of performance and give a play historical permanance. The Camera is more mobile and can go to the supposed scenes and come in much closer to the characters.


A young drama student is asked to direct a play in a mental health facility using the inmates and a patient, Roy, gets him to stage Cosi Fan Tutti by Mozart.

Lewis is faced with a seemingly impossible task – to bring order to the chaotic world of the asylum – yet in the process of doing so, he develops hugely as a person. Although, it’s important not to take Lewis’ development at face value. His growth is used to highlight many of Nowra’s values on issues surrounding love, fidelity, madness and reality, just to name a few.

Così is a piece of metatheatre, a ‘play within a play’. Metatheatre pays attention to its distance from reality.

One of the themes is Fidelity & Infidelity

According to Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, fidelity is depicted as an ideal that is never achieved. Since ‘women are like that’ – the interpretation of ‘Così fan tutte’ , Mozart supported the belief that men should simply accept that women will inevitably be disloyal in relationships. Nowra echoes this view of women through Lewis and Lucy’s relationship. While Lucy is ‘sleeping’ with Lewis, she is also triflingly ‘having sex’ with Nick. When Lewis discovers Lucy’s betrayal, she waves aside his shock, defending herself, ‘it is not as if we’re married.’ The revelation thus does prove Mozart right, that ‘woman’s constancy is like the Arabian Phoenix. Everyone swears it exists, but no one has seen it.’

Sanity & Insanity

The line between sanity and insanity is explored through the juxtaposition of the patients and society. In the 1970s, those who behaved abnormally were declared to be ‘insane’ and placed in mental institutions that were shunned by society. As scientific developments have now informed us, these environments often failed to assist their patients. The use of electric shock therapy, for example, frequently led to severe, long-term negative effects upon patients.

Quotes from Cosi

” look on the bright side, Jerry. For killing an actor, he’d get life, for killing a director he get eternal gratitude “

” … Hate is a much more a pure emotion. We choose our enemies with much greater care than our loves “

” I can’t stand real things. If I could put up with reality I wouldn’t be in here “

” happy is the man who calmly takes life as he finds it and though the vicissitudes of life lets himself be ruled by reason… “

Roy: (Lewis) Couldn’t direct a nymphomaniac to a stag night.

“actors are “crying out for direction”

Cherry: This is just another battle of the sexes.
Roy: Oh, I suppose so… If you could describe the Crusades as a sightseeing lark on the way to Jerusalem!
Doug: Oh, please, someone give him some lithium!


Patricia Cornelius #

Women have been historically under-produced on Australian stages, and Patricia Cornelius is no exception. She is one of Australia’s greatest playwrights but until now her work has never been performed by Sydney Theatre Company.

Cornelius amplifies the voices of those who are often invisible in contemporary theatrical spaces: the working class and disenfranchised, including those who have been incarcerated or abused. She writes women without politeness and men without undue reverence and isn’t afraid to be profane or to push boundaries. It’s easy to see why a major company might consider her work a risky proposition

Joanna Murray Smith #

SMH, on #metoo, writing and fighting with Bryan Brown Kerrie O’Brien May 25, 2018

Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith is fascinated by questions of identity. Her play Fury revolves around a liberal-minded, educated couple grappling with this scenario as it sends shockwaves through their world. Staged by Red Stitch, the play was originally commissioned in 2013 by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton for the Sydney Theatre Company.

“What happens when our intelligent, loveable, seemingly well-balanced, engaged, communicative children just decide they don’t agree with us on something fundamental?” she asks.

One of Australia’s best-known playwrights, Joanna Murray Smith, is fascinated by questions of identity.

Aged 56, Murray-Smith has written 22 plays, three novels (one shortlisted for the Miles Franklin), a few librettos and some television, as well as two films. Is it a strong work ethic that makes her so prolific?

“I wish it was an ethic. It’s kind of like emotional scaffolding because I’m happy when I’m writing,” Murray-Smith says. “One of the good things about getting older is working out what you need for your equilibrium. For some people it’s about time, for some space, for some people it’s about friends or travel or whatever. I think for me writing is therapeutic.”

Her first play, Honour, written in 1995, has been staged in dozens of countries and on Broadway and in the West End, with leads including Julia Blake, Meryl Streep and Diana Rigg. Its themes of love and loss, lust and fidelity are timeless and cross all cultures. Similar ideas were revisited in Three Little Words, which dealt with the repercussions of a marriage breakdown and premiered for the MTC last year. Questions around the human condition and how to navigate life are her preoccupations, not that she wants to prescribe any particular way to be.

“Even as an audience member I want to be encouraged to experience something that makes me think, but I don’t want to be told what to think. I’m very intolerant of anything didactic in art,” she says. “I find ambiguity much more interesting.”

While designed to get audiences thinking, her plays are also funny. “Not enough is said about entertainment - it’s almost an oppositional word to extending or illuminating or provoking.” Kerrie O’Brien - Sydney Morning Herald

I like her for her articulate forceful muscular dialogue and her common sense.

Smith notes that we’re seeing a seismic social shift. There are certainly people – actors in particular – who have gotten away with murder (unwanted sexual harassment) for years and years and years. Because there’s a kind of charisma attached to them.

That said, she wants to see a more nuanced conversation about the issues.

“What worries me, which is controversial, is that if there isn’t enough subtlety applied to gradations of bad behaviour – if a pat on the bum is put in the same league as serious assault, there’ll be a big backlash. Women should still hold on to some agency in terms of dealing with minor, irritating and impertinent behaviour by men.”

When Catherine Deneuve came out and said,

‘It’s taken all the fun away’

It’s controversial, but a part of me agreed … I like men flirting with me, flirt away, please do.”

Suzie Miller #

Suzie Miller is an internationally lauded playwright who divides her time between London and Sydney. She honed her storytelling instincts as part of a large, Catholic working-class family in St Kilda. Later, she wrote plays part-time while working as a human rights lawyer who has always had that fire in her to stand up and make a difference. Many of her plays are about distressing stories she encountered while representing the downtrodden. According to Megan Lehmann in the Australian Weekend Magazine, she has an inborn hunger for redressing imbalances and contesting inequality.

Her best-known plays, which include the acclaimed Prima Facie, soon to be adapted into a film and novel, and RBG: Of Many, One, revolve around people whose lives become ensnared by the workings of power.

Prima Facie has been an international success with runs in London and New York. It has elicited constructive responses with National Theatre recording compulsory viewing for Irish Judges, English Police officer training and others in the legal world. Sexual assault cases are the most traumatising for both women and men and yet very few get to trial and fewer result in convictions. The courts have failed us time and time again in resolving sexual assault disputes.

Britany Higgins won hers in the court of public opinion.

Diana Simmonds of Theatre Noise, feels that Prima Facie barnstormed its way across the world in a way that possibly no other stage play ever has. Hyperbole? Nuh. This play is changing the law and court procedures in a growing number of countries; and changing the way students of law and lawyers approach their work and study. It is therefore changing lives and cultures.

Jailbaby interrogates a different part of the justice system. We take property offences so seriously, often more seriously than we take other offences against the person, and [when I worked in criminal law] I had young men who would go to prison who would tell me about the most horrific sexual abuse they were enduring. They changed in prison. There was no real rehabilitation or assistance in having skill sets for when they left prison. Instead they were tortured in there. This is happening right now.

Camilla Nelson Professor, University of Notre Dame Australia writes for The Conversation :

Jailbaby focuses on jail rape, a crime that is understudied, under scrutinised and underreported. It takes place in an environment where seeking help or speaking up has the opposite of the intended effect.

The courtroom of the public imagination is like the last sacred space in a secular society.

It is presided over by judges beyond the reach of criticism. People readily imagine a defendant’s case will be carefully considered; that everybody has a lawyer in a sharp suit who will make eloquent pleas and ask searching questions.

In reality, the lower courts are crowded and chaotic. A duty solicitor quoted in recent research paper likened the civil courts to a “zoo”. The criminal courts are worse.

Suzie Miller:

Greg Bearup in a Weekend Australian Magazine. reports that despite a decline in crime rates, imprisonment rates are the highest they’ve been in more than a century.

The number of people in jail has increased by 20% in the past decade at a cost of $120,000 per inmate. Injustice is always more expensive than justice.

Robert Tickner, former Minister of Aboriginal affairs, who initiated the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, is disappointed that little has changed.

Jailing is failing, as the over-use of prisons is fundamentally harmful to those in prison, their families and friends. And the broader community.

My concern remains that upright citizens, like Tony Page are incarcerated for an accident, while violent criminals appear to get more lenient treatment. There needs to be more consistent, rational sentencing.

Jails don’t make better citizens; they produce better crimminals. Yet somehow the Western democratic world sees it fit to put more and more of its citizens behind bars, including children as young as ten.

It’s absurd I mean dumb - stupid - ignorant - but that’s what we let our politicians do.

We are told that jailing people creates a safer society. This is another lie.

A new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report reveals that compared to the general population, people in prison have higher rates of mental health conditions, chronic disease, communicable disease, and acquired brain injury. This is despite the fact the prison population is relatively young. (James Ogloff, Swinburne University of Technology, writng in The Conversation)

How is this in anyway corrective and beneficial to society?

Political Drama #

Almost all drama has political motives. Aeschylus is considered the father of Drama and his plays, The Orestia and The Persians have political subtexts; the former on revenge and justice and the latter on the devastating effects on war.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays have to do with the question of good governance. Bertolt Brecht’s plays highlight the pain and trauma of war. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, exposes the toxic effects of political chicanery of the legal system. David Williamson tackles the politics of policing (The Removalists) and sport (The Club). Suzie Miller takes on the entire Justice system in Prima Facie and Jailbaby.