To write what you know might be the oldest piece of advice to a writer, but it’s one that Mary Rachel brown takes to heart. Having gambled and drank her commission over the course of researching her 2011 play The Dapto Chaser which received wide critical acclaim, Brown returns to a subject that she has an intimate knowledge of in her upcoming work Permission to Spin.
For those who might have thought that children’s entertainment is all smiles and rainbows, Brown is ready to shine a light on its dark underbelly, and draws on her own experience to do so.
“I used to be an actor many moons ago but partially to do with the limits of my acting skills and to do with my size because I'm five foot one and quite small I did a lot of kids shows, so I kind of lived in that world for a while.”
Using this first-hand knowledge, Brown has produced a work that is partially documentary in nature, but highlights how in every world, much larger issues are at play.
“I don't want to give out names but in my youth I had a friend who used to date someone from the music producing industry and I had a few very rock and roll nights out with those people and those particularly those men, and there's some direct quotes from those nights out in the play.”
Although starting out as a male dominated piece when first drafted in 2005, Brown was spurred to revise the work to skewer contemporary concerns, as “with everything that's going on with the #MeToo movement I felt compelled to, instead of it being a four hander male piece, I reduced it to a three hander with a female protagonist.”
The cast, led by Anna Houston (Blackbird, Of Mice and Men), also consists of Yure Covich (Home Invasion, Children of the Sun) and Arky Michael (The Tempest, Mother Courage and Her Children), have been thrown into the pressure cooker of The Old Fitz, which leads them to become what Brown describes as “caged animals”.
Partly contributing to this level of intensity was the development of Permission to Spin as part of the hotINK play festival in New York. Having actors from the US read the play led Brown to find that “the play is really big and bold and it needs that kind of gloves off approach from actors.”
Dealing with the consequences of the #MeToo revelations in Australia, which have so far primarily come from the world of performance, necessitates a no holds barred approach to comedy, as it is the culture of silence which Brown sees as limiting revelations in the past.
“I know I've had trouble in productions and you want to bring it up [but] the nature of the industry is that you're also held to ransom by the fact that every night there's going to be a hundred people watching you, or you are two weeks out from opening and bringing that up would threaten the health of the production.”
While other dramatic forms can also tackle these social issues, what helps with comedy is the almost involuntary reaction that audiences can have, “often people will laugh at something and the nature of laughing at certain things makes them question their own ethical stance or their position … it makes you question what you find funny” notes Brown.
Comedy has also been Brown’s own way of dealing with what life has thrown at her, giving her a developed understanding of its ability to catch others off-guard.
“Because I grew up sort of short with a lazy eye and curly hair when everyone had striaght hair I just and I was just a bit of a smartarse at school I think I developed a comedy muscle that I can't shake.”
Flexing this muscle on stage has allowed Brown’s work to grapple with complex topics such as class, family and addiction, for as Brown reflects, “the ultimate job of a playwright is to give voice to subjects we're wrestling with.”
Permission to Spin runs from July 3 – 28. Book tickets and find out more here: https://www.redlineproductions.com.au/permission-to-spin