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Stephen Sewell – An Interview

Copyrighted to Australian Stage.

5 years have passed since Stephen Sewell’s stage play HATE was first produced. 25 years which have seen numerous changes take place in the Australian cultural landscape and of course, in the Australian psyche. Therefore, it seems only fitting that in 2013, under the direction of Marion Potts, this highly charged introspective work is returning centrestage as part of the Malthouse’s latest showcase of innovative Australian work.In a recent conversation with Sewell we discussed the salient features of his work which included enduring aspects of power; extremist personalities and emotions; and the lingering effects of violence. HATE takes place in eastern Victorian in a somewhat Lear-esque setting: a wealthy politician gathers his family in an attempt to determine their loyalty and love for him before dividing up his empire. It is a deliberate excavation of human relationships set against much larger environmental upheavals.

Encapsulating the personal struggles of a political family within the larger impending disaster that looms over the Australian people offers a quintessential glimpse into, not simply the history of our land, but into what Sewell identifies as the very “moments that contribute to that history”.

For those expecting an easily accommodating kitchen-sink drama you will be disappointed: “This is far from being a naturalist play,” emphasizes Sewell, “Its about a stage of memory, fantasy and hallucination… of bold emotions, hope and terror.”

It also apparently requires a rather strong constitution.

“Although not quite as bad as Titus & Andronicus, there certainly is plenty of blood and gore,” says Sewell happily, “This is a counter-view of the world out of which it was born and it has an element of gothic horror that people enjoy, relish even.”

What is particularly interesting about this production is that since its original season (directed by Neil Armfield) it hasn’t had any mainstage revivals.

“Neil’s original production took place in a milieu where Australian playwrights were still engaging with developing a strong voice for Australian theatre… and to a certain extent we were engaged in a process, and I’m simplifying here, of ‘just making it up,’ says Sewell, “On the other hand Marion and her generation are, I believe, more skilful, more thoughtful and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this production plays out in Melbourne”.

A dramatic text and a production now in the capable hands of the Malthouse team, HATE invites debate and challenges its audiences to examine the status quo: both current and past.

As a work that was written to examine and excavate all facets of human relationships this play is an important addition to developing our canon of Australian drama. Within a western theatrical framework, white Australian theatre is very new and is constantly engaged in a process of defining and refining itself. If as Sewell argues, “all a writer can do is try and produce good work” then it is only fitting that such motivations are driven by a “desire to create work that can have an influence not only on theatre and its audience – but on the wider community”.

Because it is only then, as Sewell explains, that we are acknowledging the magnitude of our circumstances and the vital role then we are engaged in creating something much bigger than ourselves as we work towards re-defining Australian theatre.

And as result of this constant engagement in being witnesses to our morphing cultural landscape, we are able to carry out what Ghanian playwright Mohamed Ben Abdallah calls upon all theatre practitioners to do: ‘create work that holds up a mirror to our society to highlight both the good and the bad, the present as we know it’.

And HATE does exactly this. When you go to the show be ready. To look into the mirror.

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