Debra Oswald is one of Australia’s most popular and most successful writers. As the playwright of Gary’s House, Dags, Peach Season and of course the exquisite Sweet Road she has captured the hearts and minds of theatre-goers for the last thirty years. As a television writer, most recently as head-writer and co-creator of the award-winning series Offspring her words and her amazing, vivid and unforgettable characters have crept into our houses, lingered around our dining tables and drifted in and out of our dreams.
It feels strange – perhaps almost creepy – to write about a playwright’s work in those terms, but this is Oswald’s gift. Her work gets into you somehow (or at least it certainly does me, and many of my colleagues). ‘What is it?’ we ask… ‘How does she do that? – Get inside you like that?’
I think it’s probably fair to describe Oswald as, above everything else, a humanist. All of her plays, screen-plays and novels are focused through the lens of character, rather than epic political and social themes, although the beautiful and lyrical worlds she creates are very articulate about living in Australia here and now. Whenever I am asked about writers who I would say express a sense of ‘Australianness’ (an awkward question), Oswald is at the top of my list because she has a knack of creating in a single word, phrase or image a sense of recognition. Her writing expresses the larger social condition by pinpointing the individuals who lie at the heart of it, whose dilemmas, dreams and ambitions seem to be somehow emblematic of what it is we collectively desire, fear or dream of in this country, this land that we are still trying to work out how to share.
Where Oswald really comes into her own in this regard is her extraordinary knack for conjuring the everyday awkwardness and hilarity in our attempts to connect. The high-urban cool of, for example, Sewell’s character Rose Draper from The Blind Giant is Dancing is nowhere to be found in Oswald’s oeuvre. Here are mechanics, farmers, teachers, kids, service workers, retirees – people from all walks of life, but Oswald’s concern is not what they do with their lives, rather how they are living. Are they happy, fulfilled, in love, desperate, ecstatic?? Oswald’s worlds are worlds of feeling rather than thinking, of sensing rather than analysing, getting on with it rather than strategizing.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in her writing about the workings of love and sexual attraction. She loves to write scenes and encounters that are in one breath horrifically awkward and piss-funny – those moments we’ve all experienced in our lives, which we hope no one will ever witness (or retell…) The great generosity in Oswald’s writing is that, in revealing these moments she empowers us by saying ‘don’t worry, it’s not just you…’
You'll find more of my thoughts on SWEET ROAD, along with our video interview with Deb, on the AustralianPlays.org blog.
Red Door Curator
LATEST RELEASE: SWEET ROAD
Sweet Road: Jo’s running from her husband, Yasmin’s hitchhiking towards true love, Frank’s longing for escape, Michael’s grieving for his dead son, Andy and Carla are grappling with screaming kids... Disparate lives collide and connect on the open road.
Debra Oswald is a writer for film, television, stage, radio and children’s fiction.
Debra’s stage plays have been produced around Australia. Gary’s House, Sweet Road and The Peach Season were all shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. Her play Dags has had many Australian productions and has been published and performed in Britain and the United States. Gary’s House has been on the senior high school syllabus and been performed in translation in both Denmark and Japan. The Peach Season won the 2005 Seaborn Playwright’s Prize. Mr Bailey’s Minder broke the Griffin Theatre’s box office record in 2004, toured nationally in 2006 and was produced in Philadelphia in 2008.
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