Tag: Zoey Dawson

Review: Australian Realness

Dreadfully funny disrupted by pure dystopia

By Leeor Adar

Drawn into the notes by Zoey Dawson for her play, Australian Realness, I was captured by the unspoken truth she was prepared to tackle. Do we love the larrikin or not? Modern educated Australia says no.

It’s a depressing state of affairs, classism, and the warfare that literally ensues as this play’s absurdity evolves into an ever-fantastical barren stage of mimes. Advertised as a joke, and at times dreadfully funny, Dawson manages to spear the arts world and the educated Fitzrovians (sorry, Fitzroy bourgeoise) right in their guts. While you may at first think you’re watching a Ray Lawler play, Dawson’s distinctive touch as a playwright is her ability to coax her audience into a sense of comfort and then disrupt it with pure dystopia.

The play opens at the Christmas gathering of a thoroughly modern Melbourne family, still tepidly dipping their toes into diversity. The daughter (Emily Goddard) is both wonderful and utterly annoying as she waddles her heavily pregnant privilege across the stage, whilst her tradie partner (Chanella Macri) must politely dodge the artfully barbed Moet-filled bullets of the daughter’s mother (Linda Cropper). Greg Stone’s enthusiasm in his role as the affable father perfectly contrasts with the shrill snobbery of the mother. Janice Muller competently directs the performances in Australian Realness, which are all stellar, particularly Cropper’s transformation. I was stumped for a little while there. Who was this other actress?

A laugh here and a laugh there, and we’re taken into the underbelly of every foul assumption concocted of the working class Australian. Transformed into the bogans in the shed out back, Cropper and Stone heave with clichés. Dawson’s writing is laying it on thick here, but it achieves what it needs to. The increasingly absurdist entries of the bogan family members on stage with laugh tracks is understood to be the audience having a laugh at the working class, sit-com style. The play is totally self-aware and challenges you not to see through its display of stereotypes. Between the banker son (André De Vanny) displaying his white short-shorts whilst talking money and ordering cocaine on his 80s flip phone, and the ill-behaved bogan son playing a Bennie Hill inspired sequence with his father, we get the drift.

Romaine Harper’s set design brilliantly shatters itself apart from the comforts of the Aussie living room, and thrusts Goddard’s character out of her proverbial bourgeoise womb and that of her baby. The camera work from here is temporarily jarring, and we are soon confronted by the banished – a migrant woman who was once the subject of the daughter’s art. The daughter, finally levelled out by the class warfare and on the streets, confronts her new reality and rebels against it, calling the banished woman names as she hears her baby cry under the rubble, unable to accept the even playing field of this new world. Try as her character might to be magnanimous to those less fortunate, once her bubble of a life is burst, she reviles the otherness of what she once accepted from her ivory tower.

Australian Realness force-feeds the fear of the working class down the throats of educated Australia. The working class ultimately takes a wrecking ball to the art, homes and privilege of the educated. It’s almost enjoyable to see how the patronising language used by the supposedly cultured against those they exert superiority over does little to save them from their ultimate fear.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Australian Realness is showing at the Malthouse Theatre until the 8 September 2019. For tickets, follow the link: https://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/australian-realness

Photography by Zan Wimberley

Zoey Dawson’s CONVICTION

Unsettling and outstanding

By Leeor Adar

Welcome to the prolonged anxiety attack.


We were submerged into a seemingly soothing world of sound design maverick, James Paul. Distant shores ebbed and flowed into the subconscious and conscious workings of playwright Zoey Dawson. Inane, witty and self-indulgent thoughts grabbed us and made us laugh, and sometimes think a little too hard about ourselves. But that was Dawson’s point. Our own private narrative is both universal and compelling, and Dawson understands this, even if it ticks some theatre-goers off.

Declan Greene’s assured direction makes its masterful entrance as our actors form a tableau from a bygone era. The stream of consciousness that we found ourselves immersed in earlier is being spoken by our now shifting tableau. It’s a gorgeous beginning, and I feel safe in this space, which will become a central feature of what the Dawson/Greene team are going to undo.

And undo it they will.

Conviction goes House on the Prairie to Lord of the Flies in a descent one does not see coming. With every unhappy scene, it is reworked again, and again, just as its playwright tears the pages of their work away. You can almost feel the playwright’s desperation as historical inconsistencies litter the work, until our convict-cum-lady, Lillian (Ruby Hughes), is smoking out of a crack pipe and unravelling both out of character and out of era. The playwright has clearly become bored with the ‘great play’ and returns to a reality more familiar.

The cast is excellent – but it is our leading ladies who really stand out. Hughes dominates in her performance as the ‘survivor’ in a world of her own making, and Caroline Lee’s timing as a performer is effortless. Greene has directed his cast with style – transitioning them with ease from one dimension to the next. It’s a testament to this creative team’s skill that as an audience we take this wild and weird journey with them.

The only concern for this work is its exclusivity. Dawson may find it difficult to reimagine this work in another city. The references to Melbourne and the very specific Melbourne condition are hard to unravel. Dawson’s story resonated with me, but I wonder, outside of the theatre-loving privilege, how will outsiders connect? Dawson has taken on a mouthful in Conviction, but she still artfully weaves historical and feminist inconsistencies into her work in a way that is charming, jarring and familiar.  She reconfigures the past, as our stock white colonialists ask a passing native Australian to tell her story. The world stops for a moment, blacked out and blank, as this story was not Dawson’s to tell. Dawson reminds us that we write stories about our own experiences because they are authentic. It’s also a brazen up-yours to our great nation’s denial of a stolen history. But this is Dawson’s experience, and she manages to intersect her private narrative with a greater narrative about our fear of not being enough, and unworthy of telling our tale.

This isn’t a story about convicts – as I expect you’ve gathered by now. It’s a story about convicting ourselves to a life of self-doubt and anxiety for failing to have the conviction to tell our story.

You can join the stream of consciousness from the 27 July to the 6 August, Wednesday – Sunday at 7:30pm, Northcote Town Hall.

Bookings: Conviction Ticketing


Mesmerizing meta-theatre

By Myron My

Remounted by MKA Theatre, The Unspoken Word Is ‘Joe’ is a play about a play about a play. I think. Things get confusing very early on. But ultimately it’s what happens when actors no longer have a script with which to protect themselves and must face life, real life. It’s about what you do when the shit really hits the fan and find yourself losing control for the sake of your art.

The Unspoken Word is Joe

I will admit it took me a while to realize that this was not an actual staged reading, such was the convincing nature of the cast, especially Natasha Herbert as the “straight” stage director. She manages to steal every scene she is in and even some of the ones she isn’t in. Fortunately, once the off-script action starts, Herbert is cleverly placed in the background so focus remains on the four actors.

Nikki Shiels is particularly wonderful to watch portraying Zoey Dawson, one of Australia’s emerging playwrights (and the actual writer of the play), who slowly and (melo)dramatically unravels as the cracks in her happy façade begin to surface. I recall seeing Shiels in MTC’s True Minds two years ago and her comedy timing was apparent then. With The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’, she has a lot more freedom to explore this zany and controlling ability and goes at it with full speed.

The two male leads – Matt Hickey and Aaron Orzech – are great as the catalysts and foils to Zoey’s eventual downfall. Annie Last is so wonderfully over the top as the craaaayyyzyyy girl that she does risk becoming more of a caricature than a person until Dawson (the writer not the character) dials her character down a notch with a strong emotive scene between her and Dawson (the character not the writer).

Dawson’s script is filled with hilarious moments, somber moments and honest moments. There are a few times where the dialogue get a little clunky or long-winded but these can be overlooked for the overall brilliance and wittiness of her writing.

The Unspoken Word is ‘Joe’ not a straightforward theatre performance. The meaning gets hidden within the story within the story, and a bit muddled in the meta-ness of the script but then, that is what life (and theatre-making) is like sometimes. It’s not always clear and it’s not always pretty to watch but it’s compelling and it’s something we can’t take our eyes off.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton

Season: Until 1 March | Wed 6.30pm, Thurs-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 4:00pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

 or 9347 6142