16 Sep

Old versus new. Stale versus fresh. Sophistication versus naivety. Decadence versus innocence.  Europe versus Australia.

One of these pairs is a false dichotomy: the last one.

Australia is European. (Or Europe is Australian, in case you’re tempted to think I’m making some sort of backward racist statement rather than philosophically dismantling an erroneous distinction.)

Michael Gow’s very funny and thought provoking play was written in 1987, nearly 30 years ago, and it feels like it. It harks back to the experience of an earlier generation, of the 60’s and 70’s, when every Australian intellectual fled to the Old World.

Has Australia become more European in that time? (Is that my ridiculous thesis?) Of course not, but the tyranny of distance has weakened, and we’ve grown more confident.

And that’s the value of James Beach’s very entertaining production; it explores that confidence.

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Photo by Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

In the play, Aussie fan Douglas chases European actress Barbara. They’ve had a brief fling when she toured Australia, and he sees no reason why it shouldn’t continue. She’s less certain. (The performances by Pippa Grandison and Andrew Henry are wonderful.)

Just as Barbara is about to go on stage she says ‘I’ll drag my body through this classic again’. (All my quotes are paraphrasing.) She wonders what would happen if she changed the end this time. But, alas, the audience has come to see that particular play. Again. A type of cultural obsessive compulsive disorder?

Barbara continues ‘We constantly redo the classics. Reinterpret them, reclaim them, reject them. And the new plays are just echoes of the old.’ (More paraphrasing.)

Why are we in love with the old? And, no, I don’t buy the whole ‘universals’ argument.

I started this response by suggesting that the obsession with Europe was a thing of the past. But I see the same thought patterns, the same conservativism, repeated every time we choose to produce another Patrick Shanley, Sam Shepherd or Neil La Bute play. (These productions, no matter how well done, often feel like cover bands; the theatrical equivalent of a Madonna Tribute show at the Rooty Hill RSL.) And it’s the same for the rewriting of the classics. Borrowed glory. (And, of course, highly effective pre-marketing. Postmodernism is not the reason why the Broadway musical is now inevitably an appropriation of an earlier text.) And there’s a similar conservatism lurking in our desire to create an Australian canon.

So maybe it’s not Europe. But it’s usually somewhere else, somewhen else. Not here. Not now.

But it could be.

And that’s what this very clever, beautifully performed production made me think about.

Veronica Kaye


Europe by Michael Gow

Seymour Centre til 27 Sept

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