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Manly Mates

Sir Robert Askin was the longest-serving premier of New South Wales in the twentieth century… as long as you don’t count little Bobby Carr, who served eight months longer, but whose term unfortunately stretched into the twenty-first century. It will not be news to many that such petty distinctions actually matter to the ruling class. It certainly wasn’t to me; which is why, when Frank Hatherley’s play Manly Mates landed on my desk, I was keen to see it produced in Canberra.

A fictitious story based on posthumous accusations levelled at Askin, Hatherley’s play plonks the jovial premier into a hotbed of gambling, womanising and crime (sometimes consecutive, other times concurrent). Joined by stoners, journalists, cops and shonky American poker machine salesmen, the scene in the private Octopus Room at the Manly Hotel is all too reminiscent of more recent rumblings of the political machinery behind closed doors in both New South Welsh and federal politics.

For this production, which later came to be declared the last of Canberra Dramatics’ productions, I handed the reins to James Stevens, who has done a great job with an unwieldy script and a large cast on Tuggeranong’s small stage. The show rolls along from one laugh to the next, and on opening night, despite a slow start, they developed a full head of steam for the hilarious finale.

It is great to see Michael Miller, who has performed in many of Canberra Dramatics’ shows, reprise the role of Askin in the company’s final production; he has a swagger befitting any crooked premier, and is ably supported by Rebecca Nicholson, another veteran of Canberra Dramatics’ productions, as the enthusiastic Pat. Don Wilkinson also returned for this production, as did Robbie Matthews, and these friends were joined by a number of performers who had not performed with Canberra Dramatics before, most notably among them Margie Sainsbury who landed the enviable role of Lady Molly Askin, and lends her an air of forced grace.

Although I haven’t had a lot to do with this last production, it has been a pleasure to see some of the journey this cast and crew have taken. They struck me from the beginning as a very cohesive group, and I am especially glad that James Stevens took on the task of directing them. Cerri Davis, who has worked in a number of different capacities with Canberra Dramatics over the years, also did a fine job in her first role as Production Manager.

In all, it was a great pleasure to see this hilarious play staged in Canberra, and it is a great finale to five years of productions.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 27 January 2011 in Canberra Dramatics, Canberra Theatre, Pure Theatre, Theatre

 

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Review of Arts in the ACT

This afternoon I participated in the democratic process. Sounds very noble and boring, doesn’t it? Actually, I joined a whole bunch of other arty types to talk about arts practice in the ACT and government support for it. It was an interesting discussion, although it will be far more interesting to see what our great and mighty leaders do with our input.

The event was a consultation session run by a private firm contracted by ArtsACT to conduct a review of the arts in the ACT. Amongst a little bit of outright whining, there were some interesting discussions about the way in which governments support the arts, and how arts funding could best be utilised to the benefit of the arts community.

There were a few comments about the level of importation of art product, and the proportion of government funding that flows out of Canberra to artists based interstate or overseas. There was also a particularly interesting point made about the lack of support for arts businesses, which are, presumably, one of the most sustainable forms of arts activities.

But I think the most interesting point made, from the perspective of someone who has only been in Canberra for a little over a decade, was that Canberra had a much healthier and more robust arts community in the 80s and 90s. While I was well aware of most of the organisations, what these ‘older’ Canberrans were reminiscing was an atmosphere of creativity that could rival that of Seattle or Paris. At least one person who had lived through it remarked that she hadn’t thought about it for years. It made me sadly jealous of those who have had a longer association with the city.

Still, I can hold out hope that a new era of cultural vibrancy may yet dawn on our little concrete jungle. The group I found myself in this afternoon certainly has more than its fair share of optimism. One of them was so optimistic that she even thought it possible that our elected officials may one day actually take pride in the achievements of creative Canberrans. I’m optimistic, but not that optimistic. As long as the minister for the arts is a lawyer with a strong cultural cringe against his constituents, I hardly see that happening.

What I hold out hope for is a revival of creative energy. I am in one sense thankful that I don’t have an older picture of what a creative Canberra looks like, because a new era of that kind of culture is sure to look very different from the old one. I was surprised to learn that Happy Feet was largely created in Canberra. That is certainly a different image of creativity from what must have gone on in the 80s and 90s, but that kind of creative energy is something to get excited about (as long as they can find better script writers, because Happy Feet was crap in the dialogue and plot departments).

At any rate, if you would like to contribute your $0.02 worth to the debate, it’s not too late. You can get along to the last consultation session on Wednesday 4 November at Belconnen Arts Centre, or you can complete the survey.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 October 2009 in ArtsACT, news

 

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