Month: December 2014

Staging power: David Williamson’s portrait of Citizen Murdoch

James Cromwell as an older Rupert Murdoch in David Williamson’s show Rupert. AAP Image/Dean Lewins


The Melbourne Theatre Company’s (MTC) production of David Williamson’s 2013 play Rupert has finally made it to Sydney, via Melbourne and Washington, in late 2014.

Along the way, the MTC has acquired the services of American actor and Oscar and Emmy nominee James Cromwell to play the ageing Murdoch. By the time Rupert was staged in Sydney (where it continues until December 20) the script had been updated to cover the latest developments in the UK phone-hacking prosecutions. Such are the demands on theatre that engages with contemporary lives and events.

Rupert is at the Theatre Royal, located only a short distance from News Corp Australia’s headquarters and also from the site of an infamous 1960 Murdoch Crew v Packer Posse fist fight over a printing press. The play roams across a Murdoch universe that expands from sleepy Adelaide to embrace London, New York and Shanghai.

With its hyperactive ensemble cast (including well-known local actors Jane Turner and Danielle Cormack) and frantic pacing, director Lee Lewis has simulated the whirl of Murdoch’s big life. As Cromwell’s Murdoch sardonically observes the derring-do of his younger self (played by Guy Edmonds), the action unfolds in a frenetic mix of farce and cabaret.

When the MTC commissioned David Williamson to write an unspecified “big canvas” play, the UK’s Leveson Inquiry into the role of the press and the police had already become an unlikely television hit. Audiences were rapt in the nightly courtroom-style drama of tabloid horrors, thespian barristers and squirming witnesses.

Author Kristin Williamson and playwright David Williamson in 2010. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy
Click to enlarge

Williamson saw his chance and took on what he calls in his play the “Apex Predator” of media and politics.

There is some irony in this choice given that, despite the divergence in their politics and life histories, Williamson and Murdoch have something in common.

Australia’s most commercially successful playwright is generally regarded by Australian theatre critics as a populist peddler of middle-brow, middle-class witticisms. Its most prominent media mogul, not dissimilarly, is widely viewed by media critics and academics as achieving commercial success by pandering to the lower expectations of audiences – and then lowering them further.


After Phillip Hughes’ death, it’s time for a post-traumatic Test

By David Rowe

Reblogged from The Conversation


Adelaide Oval, Phillip Hughes’ most recent state cricket home, will play host to this week’s first Test match between Australia and India. AAP/Michael Ramsey


The first cricket Test match of the Australia summer is usually a happy occasion. Its retro sights of white-flannelled figures and the comforting sound of bat on ball herald the holiday season even for those who don’t care much for the game. But not this time.

Australian batsman Phillip Hughes’ death on the field of play barely a fortnight ago is a reminder not of carefree fun, but of mortality. Players, officials and sports journalists have displayed the trauma on their faces. Legions of cricket fans, and even people who had never previously heard of Hughes, have publicly displayed their grief.

The much-coveted Google landing page carried the viral image of a leaning, unattended bat. Overseas football matches saw displays of sorrow for the death of a sportsman.

Days of saturation media coverage preceded the funeral in rurally picturesque Macksville attended by teammates, celebrities, politicians and locals. There was the usual glib talk of closure, but how can cricket and its followers return so quickly to business as usual and efficiently expunge the awful images of an incident given such intensive, repeated exposure?

If there is to be a genuine healing process it is necessary to confront some uncomfortable home truths. It has been all too easy to dismiss Hughes’ death as a “freak” accident. In part, this was legitimate reassurance to the bowler of the fatal ball, Sean Abbott, who could have scarcely imagined that a regulation bouncer to an armoured batsman would have such dire consequences.

But it is important to understand how the accident came to happen, and not simply to attribute it all to malign, capricious fate or rule out justifiable questioning of the staggering scale of the response to it – as the usually astute observer Greg Jericho has done.

Piling up all the apparently unique combination of factors in this case – “cricket, fame, youth, style, media attendance plus a multitude of other things [that] contributed to the response” – Jericho declared:

Let us honour him by not using his death to beat our own drum.

Certainly, any event as heart-wrenching and newsworthy as Hughes’ tragic death is certain to draw out all manner of axe-grinders and ideological opportunists, as well as those who are just trying to make some sense of what happened and to prevent its recurrence.

But accidents and the responses to them don’t just happen in isolation or speak for themselves. It is imperative to look beyond the moment, even if we feel a powerful compulsion to succumb to sentimentality’s warm embrace. The drum beat cannot be so easily stilled or its repercussions denied.