Monday, July 29, 2013

Hansard a rich vein to mine for the stage

Drama, passion, tragedy and triumph have always been givens when it comes to politics - but does it make good theatre?

That's the question journalist Paul Daley was faced with when he began trawling through the transcripts of the hundreds of speeches made during the three years of the 43rd Parliament.

And the answer?

Senator Mary Jo Fisher taking the government to task over their Carbon TAX with a Dance Parody.

Senator Mary Jo Fisher taking the government to task over their Carbon TAX with a Dance Parody.

A resounding yes, if the success of the recently debuted play, The Hansard Monologues, is anything to go by.


The play - a verbatim performance by three actors reading from real Hansard transcripts - arrives in Canberra next week, where it will be performed in the historic House of Representatives Chamber at Old Parliament House.

Daley, who co-wrote the play with playwright Katie Pollock, said the idea had come from former Canberra Times and Sydney Morning Herald editor Peter Fray.

''It was actually Pete Fray's idea to kind of test the hypothesis that it was possible to make drama out of the verbatim words of the politicians in Hansard,'' he said. ''We went and tested it and found, yes, absolutely, there's stacks of good material there. There is definitely a narrative.''

The play, which thematically links major political issues of the past three years, begins with Julia Gillard being sworn in as prime minister three years ago, and ends with Kevin Rudd doing the same just one month ago - a segment that had to be hastily added before the first performance.

Daley said that although a verbatim play like this was a new concept for many, in fact the premise was quite simple.

''I just didn't see any need to over-intellectualise it - I just thought well, this has got to be a play about the 43rd Parliament and the politics surrounding it,'' he said.

''It was that simple, really, because that in itself has been an amazing story - a finely balanced hung parliament relying on independents, with a constant undercurrent of leadership tension, an opposition that's clocking at every turn, and big legislative battlegrounds.''

He said he and Pollock began by discussing which events would hold the narrative together, and also sought advice from politicians, other journalists and political observers as to which had been the standout speeches. These included Gillard's famous misogyny speech, Malcolm Turnbull's eulogy to art critic Robert Hughes and Liberal senator Mary Jo Fisher's Time Warp.

Actor Tony Llewellyn-Jones, who represents the opposition throughout the play, said it was harder than people think to read aloud what others had said.

''With all due respect to all of them, some of them are quite convoluted speeches,'' he said.

''You have to be so careful to honour the intention of the speakers and not make fun of them, but still have your tongue in your cheek,'' he said.

The Hansard Monologues: A Matter of Public Importance is on at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House on August 8 and 9 at 7pm. Each performance will feature a yet-to-be-announced political guest who will take questions and reflect on the 43rd Parliament at the end of the show. Tickets from
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