I saw this new play by one of our best playwrights at the Belvoir on Tuesday (25 February).
This is not intended to be a review, but a few reflections on the political dimension of the play.
But I can't pass without praising the actors.
I arrived early, bought the text / program and read over half before the play.
It made me realise just how much the actors contributed to bring the words alive.
These people breathed life into those words - as well-crafted as they are.
It reminded me of Joyce's observation that a book is just a coffin of words until someone read it.
Cowell in particular deserves considerable praise.
He is on stage for just about the whole 1 hr 40 mins (no intermission) and is extremely good in a difficult role.
This is a play about the theatre, and the state of contemporary culture more broadly.
It is an angry play, which challenges the audience.
It is not shocking or confronting in the way that too much modern art is.
There are no cheap tricks here.
It is an attack on our complacency.
It says we have lost something now that we are no longer (in a post cold war world) critical of capitalism, and no longer believe that there could be a better way of organising society.
Brendan Cowell, playing a disillusioned theatre director sitting by his mother as she dies, reads out slabs from The Communist Manifesto.
And asks: was Marx really wrong?
In this post GFC world, with inequality at levels not seen since the 1920s, and our trashing of working class people and their unions, the Marxist critique is again seductive.
But this is not a simple Marxist rant.
Gow's point is that we have taken the political content out of our art.
The play argues that Brecht cannot be understood without the politics.
Brecht can't be understood as a collection of interesting theatrical techniques.
The techniques have a political purpose, they are political.
Gow means politcs in a deep sense.
Politics as a contest of big ideas.
Politics as rage against injustice, and sorrow for the victims of exploitation.
Gow challenges us to recognise that injustice and exploitation are continuing features of the world we live in, but not the culture we now 'consume' along with everything else.
In his view, the ideas have been diminished and replaced with cheap emotional appeals and shallow perspectives.
From his mother, Cowell's character got the urge to look below the surface, and to keep asking himself the hard, unpleasant questions.
This is the link between his personal sorrow and his broader disillusionment.
By using the injuction to think as the link between the two dimensions of the story, Gow really hammers the point.
Gow's critique is compelling and thought-provoking.
It is a brave play.
Presumably, this is not what modern audiences want to hear.
Today, our media universe is saturated with the sort of politics Gow hates.
Morning breakfast TV, chat shows, social media - politics as sentimental entertainment of the cheapest sort.
Politics about the daily contest and the horse race - where the victims of oppression never get anywhere near the centre of our concerns.
That's the reality that Gow has nailed and he excoriates us all for letting it happen.
I hope we listen.