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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Theatre as Challenge to the Benign

Image by Stefan Keller

When we hear that a strange growth on our skin or a lump somewhere or other on our body is "benign" and not "cancerous" we feel a relief. Ah ... It won't kill us. So we go on our way and keep doing all the things that might in fact bring about the malignant form to a growth or lump or whatever in our system. Theatre raises significant points and issues that might seem at first viewing as simply benign fringe hysteria. Much of society only sees the results of disasters and even then views such results as "crap" to quote a recent Liberal Party Prime Minister. Belvoir Theatre in Sydney provided a powerful challenge to all such benign thinking with its production of David Finnigan's "Scenes From the Climate Era".

I have loved the work of Belvoir. I also loved the previous company, Nimrod Theatre Company that occupied the same space prior to Belvoir. The work of John Bell, Richard Wherrett and the remarkable Ken Horler stand out as seminal in the Australian history of theatre. I remember the late Ralph Wilson describing Ken Horler as the unsung hero of the advent of Australian Theatre's renaissance. The early NIMROD was never benign. It was an aggressive, exciting and skilled arrow shot from a targeted bow aimed as a defiance into the heart of lethargic and arse-licking conformity. Belvoir benefitted from the work and insight of Ken Horler who purchased the space for a dollar. I noted that Nimrod Theatre Company productions are still featured on posters on the walls of Belvoir Theatre Company.

David Finnigan's early work was in Canberra, before he embarked on an amazing artistic creative venture internationally. I couldn't miss driving up to Sydney to see "Scenes From the Climate Era" and it didn't disappoint. Brilliant and incisive writing and directing meant this intelligent exercise in dialectics opened discussion and pointed out the weakness in momentary zeal. This was really engaging theatre of serious intent but not presented as a catch all "you better believe it" style work. Finnigan's theatre touched the very heart of people trying to survive and make sense of an ever increasingly complex universe. The brilliance of its construction meant it worked and people left discussing and nagged by doubts of their own contributions while not feeling hopeless or defiant of the issues.

This was in sharp contrast to another production on the same issue seen recently where the proposed choice for action centered around a Pol Pot style genocide solution of all knowing and unknowing contributors to climate disaster.

The maturity and research tinged with comedy and brilliant stage writing set Finnigan's work apart and hopefully will be a source for people's consciousness raising. At present, use of plastics, for example, might be seen as a benign action bearing a benign though noticeable result; but one wonders for how much longer before the true malignancy becomes obvious and a killer.

Joe Woodward

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