Red Stitch Theatre is about to unleash the Victorian premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s parental nightmare, Fury, in which a young man’s hate crime is examined through the lens of prejudice and recrimination, shock and disbelief and a good deal of self examination.
The work is another testament to the talent of one of Australia’s leading playwrights, novelists and screen writers. In it, she prods the unthinkable with a heavy stick – what would you do if your child was arrested for committing a hate crime; if their world view was fundamentally and irrevocably separate to your own? With a well-aimed jab into the ego, as well as a punch in the guts, Murray-Smith makes us question how well we know our children…. and the answer may not be comfortable.
A horrific yet riveting premise, the genesis of Murray-Smith’s play began with the contemplation of what society may deem acceptable within the framework of a modern family unit and what, perhaps, must unequivocally remain unacceptable.
“I was thinking about children and how very little they do is shocking any more – at least in the traditional sense. Kids as young as 12 are announcing shifts in gender identity or choices of sexual preference – things that would have once been deeply shocking to parents,” says Murray-Smith. “But ideological or political rebellion still packs a punch. If my child held political or social views I found reprehensible, I would be deeply shocked. That idea – that we are not in control of our children, even though we create them – seemed dramatically interesting.”
Murray- Smith has been working on the play, in one form or another, for many years having initially written the play some years ago as a commission by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton for the Sydney Theatre Company where it had a very successful staging. However, she was never resolved about the play and felt she wanted to keep working on it. “….subsequently I spent two weeks workshopping it at a wonderful festival for new writing in upstate New York with a director I adore called Mark Brokaw,” she says. “As a result, I rewrote the play very considerably and this “Fury” is markedly different to the first one. It’s the first time I have substantially rewritten a play post production and it’s gratifying because that first production teaches you so much. It’s great to be able to wrestle with what you learn and capitalize from it. So it’s really several years in the making.”
Murray-Smith’s works have been celebrated pretty much across the globe. Her plays include: Switzerland, Pennsylvania Avenue, Fury, True Minds, Songs for Nobodies, Day One –A Hotel – Evening, American Song, The Gift, Rockabye, The Female of the Species, Ninety, Bombshells, Rapture, Nightfall, Redemption, Flame, Love Child, Atlanta, Honour, and Angry Young Penguins. She remains one of Australia’s most prolific and loved contributors to literature and the stage. Her preference is to write characters from the educated middle class who are idealistic and articulate. “I often write about the class between ideological control and emotional chaos – my characters often think they are in charge because they are privileged and use language well and then find that their world comes crashing down because other forces are stronger,” she says.
Interestingly, her plays usually take place in an unidentified setting because, she states, the world of the educated middle class is pretty similar the world over and because she wants audiences to believe that the world on stage is their world. Her feeling is that if she sets it somewhere particular, the audience has the opportunity to distance itself – to say: “this is a play about Australians, not me”.
However, Murray-Smith acknowledges that her two current play commissions are both set in specific places. The play for the MTC is set in Berlin – where she spent nearly a month earlier this year and the play for the QTC is set in Paris, which she knows very well.
Her recent, and highly lauded, play Switzerland, about the writer Patricia Highsmith, was set in Switzerland. “But,” she states, “I didn’t need to go really because the entire story takes place in her house or her head, depending on your interpretation.”
Unlike many writers, who talk about the loneliness of writing and the disciplined nature of their work, Murray-Smith’s approach seems a little more organically pragmatic.
“I’m not a terribly disciplined writer in terms of structure,” she admits. “I write whenever I can, fitting in the demands of travel and family. But luckily, I can write anywhere at any time so I can take advantage of time at a moment’s notice. I love to write, so finding time is never an issue. Also, all writing involves a lot of unconscious thinking as well as conscious thinking so the plays are writing themselves inside my head in subtle ways without me sitting in front of a laptop.”
Like all good theatre, Fury will provoke, challenge and prod, and the place to see it is the company that has long been Australia’s leading actors’ ensemble.
Says Murray-Smith about why this is a must see show: “Firstly, ANY production at Red Stitch is worth seeing. The consistent quality of their productions is pretty much second to none in Australia, despite being in a very small space. Their actors and directors are completely dedicated and I think they choose interesting plays. But then, I would. Secondly, ask yourself what you’d do if your child was arrested desecrating a mosque. If that doesn’t entice you to see the play, I don’t know what will!”
May 29 – July 1
Image: Black Photography