Context first.

Things happen quickly in the age of the internet. (And I must admit to this response not being a great example of that – you see, even though I can immediately post a response to a play, there are other obligations that get in the way. Laundry for example – the dark nemesis I seem to have to constantly confront…) And the rise (and fall) of our heroes (and influential public figures) are no exception. Some people’s lives get very public, very quickly. And due to the internet – the rise can be found retrospectively – and simultaneously – and the fall can be documented everywhere.

The context is important.

Those who have a computer… are sometimes those who go to the theatre. I would say many who go to the theatre have computers. If I am curious about something, I pickitty-peck my way into knowledge – or rumour – or opinion – or imagination – and the world wide web becomes a complicated web of information, marketing, reality and fabrication. Certainty is then a subjective state. Depending on paranoia, faith and some would say a series of scientific empirical deductions.

Playwrighting is a subjective pursuit.

As Tennyson said – “…For words, like Nature, half reveal/ And half conceal the Soul within.” And in the case of playwriting the interplay between words, intention and want collide – and somehow what is shown becomes important as what is not shown. The playwright must have an opinion (in my opinion). The playwright must have a question that needs to be solved that only writing a play can solve or attempt to solve.

In the case of Stainless Steel Rat – the question which is plastered across the poster is – WHO IS JULIAN ASSANGE?

For those with the internet and a computer that can very quickly be solved via a few twitches of your fingers…. Wikipedia says –
“Julian Paul Assange (play /əˈsɒnʒ/ ə-sonzh; born 3 July 1971) is an Australian publisher,[4][5] journalist,[6][7][8] computer programmer and Internet activist. He is the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website and conduit for worldwide news leaks, with the stated purpose of creating open governments. Assange was a hacker in his youth, before becoming a computer programmer.[9] He has lived in several countries and has made public appearances in many parts of the world to speak about freedom of the press, censorship and investigative journalism.”

And if that is satisfying for you, you’ll stop there.

And for whatever you have revealed via Google, there will be also be that which is concealed.

It is in the concealed areas of knowledge that curiosity grows, and questions are asked.

If you are not curious about Julian Assange… if you feel like you know all you need to know about Julian Assange (even from the blurb above).. it is unlikely you will feel compelled to attend Stainless Steel Rat.

I know I wasn’t. But the reason I decided to attend this production was not based on content. It was the WHO not the WHAT of the show that intrigued me. After seeing Wayne Harrison’s re-working of Buzo’s Macquarie last year – I wouldn’t have missed this production for the world. Harrison is an excellent director – a director whom I hold in high esteem because he knows theatricality, he publicly supports Australian writing. And his productions are best summed up as provocative spectacle, QUALITY provocative spectacle.

To have a new Australian play about a topic this hot – this relevent – this immediate is, in the theatre landscape unheard of. And that is primarily due to the conservatism of the current theatre landscape – and the machinery that supports it (including funding bodies) which asks artists to consider their projects 18months-24 months in advance. The heat on this project is incredible…

but… it’s not as hard or fast as the internet is. It will never be able to be as current, as immediate as the internet. It’s the tragedy of entertainment.

And so as soon as it is formed, the play itself must be malleable – which is why the framing of the story (the tracking of the rise and fall of (or questions around) Assange) the film maker (Caroline Craig) and her domestic turmoil is a fantastical dramturgical framework on which to hang the emerging information as it is revealed. However, in this draft, the relationship between filmmaker and Assange remains undeveloped and functional (with a parallel subplot revealing misogyny). Unfortunately some of the onstage criticism are my off-stage dramaturgical notes for Ron Elisha. Furthermore this is not a wikiplay (a wikiplay would be created and modified by a collection of playwrights.)

It is true that Elisha has had several new full length plays produced – The Schelling Point being one -which I had several reservations about. I have also read Rennaissance and have seen a production of Controlled Crying (at The Seymour some years ago). I am not by any means an expert or authority on his work, but in general I have found his plays to be structurally considered. He writes what he knows – which appears to be with very specific gender roles in mind – and some portrayals of male/female relationships which some have found misogynistic – I find boring and utterly basic. So it is no surprise that Stainless Steel Rat seems to be alot about sex and ambition… when it could be about identity and politics. And sometimes it is – but only briefly. This is largely to do with what is an identity crisis in the play itself.

This play works when the revue comedy is front and centre. We love laughing at the portrayal of Julia Gillard. We love the references to the won Logies. We love the corney stereotypes of the Russians and the PR people.

This play fails when it is a reportage of events, quotations what we already know/could find out. The play fails because it never actually asks “Who is Julian Assange?” Instead it shows us what the internet tells us about Julian Assange.

The cast is impressive. The director does a spectacular job with the confused (and unfinished) subject matter… but the ambition and the fact that a hot topic of a play is produced on the scale and by the talent it has been is highly commendable – and I very much urge you to check it out for yourself and see if I am off the mark.