If you want to get inside the mind of our next generation of playwrights, look no further than The New Plot. Performed in repertory by students of the Actors Centre (three plays per night), these six scripts tap into the unease of self-discovery while living in turbulent nation. And they only have half an hour to make an impression.
The New Plot is a development award (the winners receive a cash prize and space in the 107 Projects 2018 season to stage a full-length work), but there’s also a People’s Choice Award up for grabs – audiences are encouraged to vote for their favourite play and their favourite actor each night.
These are new plays by green writers, so across the board there’s an over-reliance on clichéd expressions and equal amounts of both over- and under-sharing, which can quickly confuse and distract the audience. But the essential ideas behind the scripts are exciting, and it’s easy to understand why each has been shortlisted; these plays speak to a preoccupation with how personal identity intersects with a broader familial, social or national identity. These plays are trying to figure out how we define ourselves, and what should be considered when defining ourselves and others: actions, emotions, or both?
In Sarah Doyle’s Don’t Tell Indi, mental health and green activism intersect with intimate partner violence in a drama about family secrets. Zachary Sheridan’s Head Case explores similar issues, though he addresses them with wry humour and dustings of comfortable Australiana. Katie Pollock’s The Becoming is also focused on family unease, but shows two siblings turning over new leaves: one makes breakfast for her family; the other has become a radicalised religious convert. In Diane Stubbings’ Entangled, a politician must face the domino effect of destruction caused by his decision to lead a country into war (as actual dominoes are set up and knocked down on stage).
The two remaining plays are the most ambitious and the most enjoyable from a storytelling perspective: the stakes are immediately clear and satisfyingly high, and the characters are either compelling or sympathetic, or both. These two plays are also tapping into bigger questions about Australia and its at times troubling social conscience.
Christine Davey’s The Last Tiger is a gripping murder mystery wrapped in a hunt for living thylacines. The legend of the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is a clever, consistent metaphor for careless, preventable loss, and as the hunt for these creatures converges with a detective’s investigation and the lyrical musings of a missing daughter (in a captivating performance by Samantha Ward), Davey builds a tension that culminated in gasps of surprise from the audience when her plot twist landed. The script, with development and workshopping into a full-length play, has real commercial appeal and artistic merit.
So too does Steven McCall’s Safekeeping, which tackles Australia’s uneasy relationship with new immigrants and the struggles of making a living off the land in 2017. When a woman discovers a fugitive, Amala, hiding in her barn, she calls her brother in for advice. Part of a mass escape from some sort of facility, Amala is presumed dead. The brother and sister could turn her in, or they could use her as an extra pair of hands on the farm; they lock Amala up for her own good, keeping the threat of the police over her head. Months later, the situation comes to a shocking head. While McCall keeps the story small, it’s of clear national relevance: it demonstrates how sometimes in Australia, the humanity and right to freedom of an individual can be contingent on where they were born. It’s a fast-paced no-bullshit piece of theatre, which is tremendously appealing.
Consider sparing a night or two for the future of Australian theatre and catching these scripts in their first outings – you might be the first to see one of the hot new plays of 2020.