Review: Australian Realness, Malthouse Theatre (VIC)

Zoey Dawson’s insightful satire exposes the hypocrisy of middle-class liberalism.
Review: Australian Realness, Malthouse Theatre (VIC)

Actors Emily Goddard and Chanella Macri in Australian Realness. Photo: Pia Johnson.

For a play set before the collapse of Ansett, Australian Realness feels remarkably prescient, teeming with contemporary Australian preoccupations: gentrification, the politics of representation, and political correctness. All become fodder for playwright Zoey Dawson’s insightful satire.

The premise is simple enough: the grown children of a middle-class couple in Melbourne’s inner suburbs return to their family home for Christmas only to discover, sometimes frustratingly slowly, that Mum and Dad are a bit strapped for cash – they’ve just had to sell the Audi. To make matters worse, they’ve rented their back shed out to a family of ‘bogans’ who threaten to disrupt the bourgeois festivities. It’s a satire but also a celebration of contemporary Australia.

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The play lurches forward, moving slowly at first before flying into a surreal nightmare in which petty middle-class concerns are replaced with genuine class war, violent and catastrophic. While the play initially seems satisfied to merely parrot familiar characters and regurgitate tired stereotypes, two-thirds of the way through, it veers wildly into a much more interesting and dynamic exploration of the powers that sustain inequality, and the bourgeois liberalism that both criticises but also benefits enormously from the maintenance of the status quo.

The design facilitates the transformation from realism – albeit a Hey Dad style of realism – to a nightmarish post-apocalyptic dream world with unbelievable dexterity. The entire cast are compelling, achieving an impressive dynamism that looks effortless. Especially impressive is Emily Goddard who takes the audience with her on her journey from self-absorbed, politically correct, condescending lesbian artist to rabid, vicious and bewildered when her comfortable lifestyle is threatened, betraying both her liberal hypocrisy and bourgeois entitlement. With socialism gaining a foothold in youth politics and even splashed across the pages of Teen Vogue, it is hard not to read this as a bleak condemnation of naive demands for wealth redistribution. 

Ultimately it is the artist who comes up for the harshest scrutiny, with a particularly incisive scene of poverty porn as art which sees the artworks finally fight back. Despite everything through, even once the artifice is torn down, even once we can finally see through the lies that protect us, we ultimately revert to pretending it’s all real anyway. Maybe the ultimate hypocrisy of the middle class is the idea that identifying your flaws is the same as correcting them.

An incredibly thoughtful and challenging work: highly recommended.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Australian Realness
by Zoey Dawson
Direction: Janice Muller
Cast: Linda Cropper, André de Vanny, Emily Goddard, Walter Henry Phillips, Chanella Macri, Greg Stone
Lighting design: Amelia Lever-Davidson
Sound design and composition: James Paul
Set & costume design: Romanie Harper
16 August-8 September 2019
The Merlyn, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Tickets $35-$72

Ainsley Kerr

Monday 26 August, 2019

About the author

Ainsley Kerr is a Melbourne based theatre maker and technician who has worked nationally and internationally in the performing arts for 15 years. Ainsley is primarily focused in new media and contemporary performance. Her directorial debut, Menage, was nominated for Best Performance in Melbourne Fringe 2017.