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The Canberra Times | In The City Magazine | SPRING
In the land of the public servant, we pride
ourselves on a sharp and comprehensive suite of
political cartoonists, commentators and satirists.
Poking fun at politicians is at the core of the
culture we cherish and there's not a self-respecting
Canberran, right or left wing, who hasn't at some point
enjoyed seeing the pollies taken down a peg or two.
But in the spirit of "keeping them bastards honest" --
have we reduced our view of the nation's politicians to
mere caricatures of our expectations?
That's the question begged by the latest production
arising from The Street Theatre's commissioning
program -- MP.
Geraldine Turner plays the MP -- a female politician
who, against the backdrop of knife-edge Australian
politics, is struggling to juggle relationships with
party colleagues, journalists, public servants, electoral
constituents, staff advisors, friends and family
members. A quest for a moral compass ensues.
Written by Australian playwright Alana Valentine
(Paramatta Girls, Run Rabbit Run), MP. is the result of
two years worth of research and gathering of first-
hand accounts of the lives of female public figures.
"I favour theatre that draws heavily on face-to-face
interviews as research," Valentine says.
"Not all of it is word-for-word -- though some is, a
lot of it is just heavily informed. I'm hoping audiences
will be more excited by the truth-telling than by who
Drawing on contemporary voices of women in
high pressure executive roles, Valentine approached
everyone, including high-profile figures such as Penny
Wong, Governor General Quentin Bryce and even
Prime Minister Gillard.
"Ultimately I wanted the Judy Hopwood and Mo
Molan types who would dish out the dirt. People with
long years of experience who are prepared to 'fess
up," Valentine says.
Among her conquests were Tanya Plibersek, Kate
Lundy, Vikki Dunn, Kay Hull, Virginia Hausseger and
Julie Bishop -- though we'll never know who said what.
"Julie Bishop was incredibly gracious and fantastic, it
was a wonderful interview though she did take a call from
Malcolm Turnbull in the middle of it," Valentine says.
"I also loved Virginia Haussegger -- I had to resist
making the whole play about her. She said some
amazing things about how many secrets journos do keep
and how good they are at it.
"I also conducted a lot of interviews with people who
didn't want to be named. Sometimes I practically had to
resort to drip torture to get them to speak."
What emerged was the very honest form her
protagonist would take.
"I was really struck by what it would be like to want
to change the world and have all these ideals and
ambitions and then really have to adapt to the system
they're being sieved through," Valentine says.
"The kind of politician that appealed to me, which I
wanted to write about, were those who are sometimes
called 'strong local member types'; they know how to
support the electorate but not necessarily how to play
the bigger game.
"I wanted to write a play that put aside that sort of
trough-snuffling approach to politics and democracy and
see when there are people who do the right thing, how
effective will they would be if they didn't start learning
and operating in that way. What happens in a sense if
you're running in a rat maze -- how much of a rat do you
have to become?"
MP. also touches on how the issue of disability is dealt
with in the political arena -- an issue Valentine says is so
big and complex that it frankly wasn't in danger of being
solved before the play was produced.
"I won't go into a rant but the issues in disability are
myriad, complex and in many ways, shameful," she
"Suffice to say the issue is something we want
the politician to be successful in solving. I visit some
alarming and important realities about young people
in nursing homes. The MP is fighting on behalf of some
local constituents who have a daughter who died in a
As for the complex protagonist, Valentine says
she is neither bad or good -- she is what she is, an
amalgamation of our public figures and Valentine's
"A couple of politicians I'm sure would say 'I wouldn't
do it that way', but if they always took the right road I
wouldn't have a play," Valentine says.
"For me as a playwright I'm not into characters who
are heroes or divas -- I'm into understanding the whole
spectrum of human behaviours. Sometimes that's
good, sometimes self-interested, sometimes massively
dysfunctional and sometimes arrogant. And that's sort
of the power of theatre, it allows you to exercise that
For anyone who has joined
in the chorus labelling all
politicians as dishonest, self-
The Street Theatre's latest
production issues a challenge.
BY DIONE VAN-HEER
plays the MP in Alana
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