45: 1975

5 May

Stephen Carleton‘s latest play is not yet published. I’ve just read the fourth draft, which is on the shortlist for this year’s Patrick White Award.

computer screen

1975 is a wonderfully rich play spanning continents and decades. Russell is a gay man of colour with two white parents. Something doesn’t add up and he’s guessing that it has to do with his parents’ abrupt departure from Papua New Guinea just before he was born. His mother left he and his father in Darwin when Russell was eight and he’s desperate to work out the identity of his biological father so that he can tell his own story.

Stephen Carleton’s writing is warm, witty and political. He tells big stories with humour and empathy. I love the metatheatrical devices used throughout the piece: Russell acts as our narrator, well aware that he’s a character in a play and that he’s using theatrical devices to present his life to the audience.

At the beginning of the play he sets the scene for us:

Russell (voice over): […] We’re starting this play in the dark because – well, because that’s where I am. And now we’re all in the dark. Together. So how does it feel? A bit laboured? Gimmicky? Okay, let’s lighten up.

[Lights rise to reveal the actor playing Russell standing in front of the set.]

[ta dah] So this is me. And this [the set] is the past.

Later, when Lois (Russell’s mother) decides to give a whole lot of her belongings to her servant’s fiancee, Russell tells the audience it’s her ‘Karen Blixen phase’:

Lois: Pita, take this box back downstairs.

Pita: Takim cargo bak daun steps, missus!?

Lois: Yes, please. Take this box and all the other boxes downstairs, pack them in the van, and take them back to your village. Give everything to your bride’s family.

Russell: Yes, it’s Meryl Streep doing the coffee plantation queen! Abandoned by her husband in a sexless marriage, surrounded by manservants she may or may not be bonking, and a sexy aviator who won’t be tamed, off in the hinterland. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner! Lois had a farm in Africa!

1975 is full of tension and sets a cracking pace as Russell takes you on a journey through his life and the lives of his parents (as he imagines them to have been), while also commenting on the colonial mindset, Australia’s international aid policies and Darwin’s alienation from the rest of Australia.

An excellent read. I hope it will be in production soon…

Publisher: yet to be published

Cast: 3M, 3F (if using the doubling suggested. Otherwise a larger cast.)

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