Australian voters are sick of slogans, political spin and lack of substantive issue-based debate.
So The Hansard Monologues: A Matter of Public Importance couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate time to premiere its people-friendly political clarion call.
Now more than ever, in the lead-up to the next federal election and following Labor’s tumultuous leadership change, Australians have a palpable hunger for real policy discussion.
This show both encourages and feeds that hunger.
The brainchild of former Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Peter Fray, The Hansard Monologues, written by Katie Pollock and Paul Daley, brings the proceedings of the 43rd Parliament of Australia to the stage this month at three different theatres around the state.
In the tradition of The Vagina Monologues, three professional actors, David Roberts, Camilla Ah Kin and Tony Llewellyn-Jones will re-create the great, troubling, emotional and radical speeches from this country’s first hung Parliament since 1940.
Fray describes Hansard as a living document that tells the story of our country “written and re-written in federal parliament”.
“Reading this play I understood for the first time the depth and breadth of our national discourse. Sure, there’s plenty of conflict and I dare say more than a few untruths told, but within Hansard there is a lot of beauty and emotion. If you really want to understand Australia, you have to go to this play.”
Fray is also one of the show’s producers, along with the Seymour Centre and the University of Sydney. In a joint statement the producers explained what propelled them to stage the show:
“The impetus for the production is our long held concern that the political discourse in this country is reduced to 15-second TV and radio grabs, conflated conflict and/or a battle of talking points.
“We do not seek to blame the media so much as to recognise its inherent limitations. And of course we know that politics actually is a contest, a debate. We are not seeking to change that: far from it.
“But what concerns us is the voting public, who are compelled by law to vote, see so little of what actually happens in federal parliament. They see and hear little of the debate, the clash of ideals, the highs and lows of our national discourse. They feel so little of the compassion and warmth. Their heads are so rarely prompted to rise above the pit.
“That is why we are proud to be co-producers of The Hansard Monologues, which exclusively uses the words of politicians (Senate and House of Representatives) as recorded in Hansard over the past three years. The text has been written/assembled by two professional writers who are dedicated to drama and dialogue rather than diatribe and dogma. Representing both sides of any argument has also been a priority in determining the final text.”
The two writers, Pollock and Daley, have woven the speeches into a dramatic structure, directed by Tim Jones and enhanced with the use of lights and sound.
Daley says voters see only a microscopic portion of what their elected MPs do and say in Federal Parliament – usually a “newsworthy” snippet from the day’s fiercely adversarial Question Time.
“The Hansard Monologues goes well beyond the short attention span of the 24-hour news cycle to bring you the best of what our politicians say in Parliament. It captures the drama, the passion, the tragedy, the ugliness and the soul-stirring words that have made the 43rd Parliament so unique, combative and compelling,” says Daley.
It certainly sounds like a salutary exercise for voters but will it be humorous like the Vagina Monologues? Co-writer Katie Pollock says that using real speeches given by the politicians means that “a lot of it is quite comic”.
“But we have positioned the show as a dramatic piece because we’re following major issues such as the carbon tax. There’s a tremendous amount of drama.
“The stories about how this country has become what it is over the last three years are fascinating. Issues such as the asylum seekers and marriage equality – the drama inherent in these debates is fascinating.
“Most politicians give really great speeches so the material we are working with is fantastic to hear: we encourage people to come for these reasons as well as for the political engagement. People will be surprised to hear some of the words coming out of the mouths of some of the politicians.”
The show’s treatment differs from journalism because of the time allocated to the material and because of the strength of the speeches.
“Very few people have the time to go to Parliament or to watch it for themselves. The show is restricted to material from Hansard, which keeps us true to the place where decisions are finally made away from analysis or discussion.
“It really goes back to the gold nugget at the heart of our democratic process.”
Pollock says people have become cynical about the political process.
“It’s very easy for viewers to get frustrated watching the political process on TV. But if you look at what’s happening in the House, it has been working. We want to remind people that this is what we voted for. In a way it’s a clarion call. This has been a good working parliament.
“This show asks the audience to engage. I hope people will come out of seeing the show less cynical and more engaged, stepping away from the filter of journalism that most of us have to face.”
The speeches will feature politicians from all parties and, in case you’re wondering, yes, will include ‘that speech’: the now-famous misogyny speech that has gone viral worldwide on social media.
“It’s one of the key speeches of this parliament but it’s 15-minutes long so what we’ve done is make sure the absolute core is included but have taken out some of the excess bits at the fringes and any repetition. But we’ve certainly not changed any of the words.”
And Pollock admits the spill did require some quick revisions.
“We were always going to update. We’ve looked carefully at all the speeches over the past three years, right until the last day of parliament, to check we’ve covered everything right up to the dramatic end.
“We always knew that last minute things would happen but we’re just taking into account the final week and making sure it’s all been angled correctly.”
The Hansard Monologues (approx. 90 minutes) will feature a Q&A with a political guest from Canberra after each show:
Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong, July 19: Stephen Jones ALP – Member for Throsby
Casula, July 24: Ed Husic ALP – Federal Member for Chifley
Seymour Centre, Sydney, July 23, 8pm: Geoff Gallop ALP, former WA premier and Professor and Director Graduate School of Government, University of Sydney,
Seymour Centre , Sydney, July 27: Rob Oakeshott, Independent – Federal Member for Lyne
World Premiere: 19 & 20 July: Illawarra Performing Arts Centre – Wollongong; 23, 26 & 27 July: Seymour Centre; 24 & 25 July: Casula Powerhouse . www.facebook.com/HansardMonologues