That was a cultural disaster. The wealth of dramatic talent our nation produces is indisputable, and has never been more evident, nor more concentrated, than with Dear Australia, an online theatrical response to the pandemic of astonishing diversity and scale.
Reinvigorated by the closure of theatres across the country, Playwriting Australia brought our dramatists together for a marathon of monologues, streamed over three nights, pairing 50 writers with 50 actors.
All theatregoers should see these “postcards to the nation”. Not every offering is a standalone success, but cumulatively they bridge almost every kind of social division — across age, class, race, gender, vocation, politics, you name it — to weave a tapestry of Australian life in a rapidly changing environment.
It is a deeply impressive act of collective imagination that plays out through the personal, through the interplay of emotion and idea, through the shared vulnerability of being alive during a plague which, as several works mention, infects people indiscriminately.
The virus may not discriminate, but humans do, and racism is one thematic touchstone. In one brilliant and biting satire from Anchuli Felicia King, performed with a smile and a stab by Catherine Van Davies, COVID-19 inspired racist graffiti becomes the subject of an art auction, with a rock thrown through a Chinese-Australian family’s window going under the hammer as “performance art”.
A 12-year-boy goes to his mate’s place to apologise for joining racist teasing in a playground. A mentally disturbed woman on parole claims she invented the virus “to kill black people”. An Indigenous mother whose daughter is in prison stoically faces an uncertain future, while another First Nations woman voices unbridled rage at corona-cliches: it’s hard to think of this as “an unprecedented time” or that “we’re all in this together” when your ancestors were deliberately infected with smallpox.
The works cover a vast breadth of experience: an abattoir foreman, a nurse, a priest, several high school kids in lockdown (one developing a tentative gay crush, another a Muslim girl whose family faces extreme challenges during the pandemic).
An Uber Eats delivery guy. A woman escaping fat-shaming through online dating. A bootlegger, played with charismatic intensity by Animal Kingdom’s James Frecheville, drawn by his survivalist father into a life of crime.
A wealthy grey nomad trapped on a Caribbean cruise. A laid-off air hostess going the full Karen in a bottle-shop. A migrant whose dog is stolen. And many more.
Quietly observed moments from isolation featuring such accomplished actors as Belinda McClory, Greg Stone, Jacek Koman and Emily Goddard anchor a polyphonic suite of dramatic shorts that holds a mirror to the national soul.