There ought to be more political theatre in New Zealand. The stage is after all first cousin to the soap box: a platform for airing political ideas, fomenting sedition, issuing a call to arms. With plays like Midnight in Moscow and The Hollow Men, playwright Dean Parker still fights the good fight, bringing a political dimension to New Zealand theatre. But apart from him I’m scratching my head to think of any New Zealand playwright who is active in this area.
So what’s the matter with New Zealand playwrights?
What’s the matter with me?!
I started out in political theatre. After experiencing the emotional trauma of Molesworth St in 1981 – where our peaceful march against the Springbok tour of new Zealand was attacked by truncheon-swinging police – I realised that as a physical coward I was much more suited to fighting for social justice with the pen than the sword. With the assistance of friend Felicity Day and Darcy Nicholas – then administrator of the Wellington Arts Centre – I formed Taotahi, a Maori and PI theatre group committed to promoting social and political change through theatre.
We presented two plays, Atia and Le Matau, which explored the experience of Maori and Pacific Islanders in urban New Zealand. Plays that received national coverage in the media and made minor celebrities of the young actors for a year or two.
Then I lost confidence in radical politics … or was it that radical politics lost confidence in me? Getting kicked out of my own theatre group didn’t help. The other members decided having a pakeha/palagi in such a radicalised company became an embarrassment. Understandable in hindsight, but at the time more than a little disillusioning.
I still love the idea of political theatre though, in the tradition of the great playwright Bertolt Brecht (does anyone put his plays on any more?) crafting story structure to elucidate political reality. Perhaps it’s time I relived the heady idealism of my youth and created a show which galvanises the liberal left and becomes a flag ship for all citizens deminding a better world …
… or should I just write another stage farce and leave all that political stuff to some playwright thirty years younger?