Our September picks for schools
John Kachoyan - AustralianPlays.org Literary Manager
Both of the plays I have chosen this month are definitely in the upper secondary bracket. They tackle issues that are difficult, but urgent for young people and both would form a great basis for wider discussion in the classroom about theatrical form and social issues. The first, Sancia Robinson’s What is the Matter With Mary Jane?, is a solo work and the second, Falling Petals by Ben Ellis, is written to be performed by a cast of five, but could be performed by a larger group without doubling.
What is the Matter With Mary Jane? explores the experience of eating disorders. It was written by actor, Sancia Robinson (who has also spent many years producing for television) in conjunction with comedy legend, Wendy Harmer. It’s a cliché to say this in some senses – and, like many clichés it is also absolutely true - but this is a rollercoaster of a play. It is hilariously funny in one second, then powerful and still in the next. What is so valuable about this work is the fact that it is written from the inside of the experience. It is not a ‘movie of the week’ style account of the disease, but rather a frank and personal story of surviving the experience. As a solo piece it has extracts galore for anyone looking for a monologue, but it is also a wonderful piece to open the door for discussion about, and empathy with, this much-feared and, for many, mysterious condition.
I should begin talking about Falling Petals with a disclaimer. This is a play with which I had a significant involvement throughout its development. I also directed the world premiere production. Naturally it follows that I have a huge affection for it. Set in rural Australia, this is a dystopian view of contemporary Australia. Ben Ellis grew up in Bairnsdale and many of the events of this play, while clearly highly theatricalised, are based on his experience of growing up in a depressed regional environment. Ellis has a very particular (and critical) view of Australia which, in the original production, was divisive in the audience. The text is highly poetic, fable-like in its construction, but with a veneer of naturalism which gives the text a gritty and fascinating edge. This is a ripper of a piece for young actors and is full of scenes that could be lifted and worked on in class, and its central theme of the essential division between rural and urban Australia is little talked of and deeply important. It has a great sense of humour, as well as extraordinary darkness. Its chunky and difficult – but deeply rewarding.
Tom Healey, Literary Manager