Macquarie| Alex Buzo Company & Parramatta Riverside Theatres
History. I love it. I love the sense of nostalgia, the 20/20 vision hindsight brings… I love how histories are told- filtered through time and delivered to a listener who may live the effects of a great event- but may not know the tiny steps that have lead us here. I’m a nerd. I must admit that I have, on occasion, found solace in Thucydides- a dogeared copy of the History of the Peloponnesian War sits on my bedside table. I think about the civilisations that have been built- the cultures that have evolved and I stand in awe at the how little people change. How time passes. I find it comforting.
Australia’s history is a wonderful example of an editor’s pen… or how historians, politicians… how those with the ink and the print press have power. Like the Athenians- it is Australia’s white history that dominates- an often santized western perspective pervades… she who wields a pen influences that which is recorded and remembered. I have often considered playwrights to be theatre’s historians. The performance event happens and the traces that are left behind are often incidental- but nothing in theatre endures like a script. Even the audience’s responses change and mellow with time… Plays are hard evidence- though only a black and white version of the visceral experience, the text, for me, is king.
I have often mused why it is that so many Australian plays are lost – why we don’t have a sense of canon- but we do have a sense of remount? It seems that there are a handful of Australian plays that are studied over and over again, by reluctant teenagers- the cultural significance is taught… How Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was a remarkable feat of innovation… the Australian “canon” are revered as museum pieces to be read and studied in reference to essay questions about “identity” and “culture.” I have a very different wish for the great texts of now (and yesteryear)- I have a great wish that they become a part of our common vernacular- just as calling “STELLA!?!?!” is… I have a wish that Australian theatre is not treated as a pious and worthy pursuit but become a natural part of our collective consciousness – not dutiful, not worthy… just commonplace amongst our idioms and the swarm of stories that live inside us.
Last year, I encountered the wonderful work of Emma Buzo, founder of The Alex Buzo Company with her season “Classic and Contemporary.” The brilliance in this season was placing Buzo’s “Norm and Ahmed” alongside a new commissioned work by Alana Valentine “Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah” – which does exactly as the Company aims to do: Produce, Promote, Perpetuate. Emma Buzo is perhaps one of the most dynamic and brave cultural crusaders theatre has in the country at the moment she is recontextualising Alex Buzo’s plays- because, they are still relevant. Her latest venture Macquarie is currently playing at Parramatta Riverside theatres (Lennox Theatre), and it is a wonderful night in the theatre… and completely timely as this year marks 200 years since he became Governor of NSW.
Wayne Harrison’s production of Macquarie is no stuffy, worthy museum piece: this is a contemporized Australian classic- and dynamic and bold. A brilliant choice to seat the audience in traverse staging- like that of the government- the very audience as the background to the events on stage… A DJ/ The representation of Mother England (Alan Dukes) in his ivory tower of culture/history is flipping disks for us- an ecclectic mix of dance tunes amid milkcrates full of cheesy vinyl. On the opposite side of the stage is another ivory tower- that of acedemia at the helm steadily played by Russell Smith.
It feels like a rock concert, perhaps due to the sassy lighting of Martin Kinnane- or perhaps because the actors spend a lot of time dancing/walking about on the board/senate table thanks to designer Mark Thompson. Performances are succinct and strong from the ensemble… and nice to see we have a representative looking cast in our theatre- Chris Mead will be happy! Jack Campbell as Lachlan Macquarie is sturdy and commanding, Kaeng Chan is agile and amusing, Graham Harvey is subtle and restrained as John Campbell, Chantelle Jamieson is strong and sexy as Mabel, Craig Meneaud is as always consistently compelling, David Whitney is suitably impressive as The Reverend Samuel Marsden and TJ Power is magnetic balancing humour and strength in equal measure- sometimes distractingly so. But for me this show was very much centred around Megan Drury’s Elizabeth Macquarie.
Tender, intelligent, forthright and exquisite- there is something simply illuminating about Drury. She is elegant, powerful and poetic- a suite of adjectives, I know, but she is the ultimate Mrs Macquarie.
The story is inspirational and eloquent- the production really a tightened suite of scenes- Harrison has been liberal in surgically removing slabs of Buzo’s original text… and for some this is sacriledge- but for those who hang their reading of the play on the opening slide “What is History?” there is a permission to re-examine the politics of Macquarie and his progressive liberalism. Particularly, this is a production which resonnates loudly in the current political climate…as we watch the pictures of Whitlam and Rudd scroll infront of us during Macquarie’s closing speech. Brilliant. Pertinent. Creative. Dynamic. And most importantly, history made fun. I loved it.