Future Of The Left

8 February 2013 | 2:20 pm | Helen Stringer

“If someone can write about it in the paper then I can write a play about it. No-one says it’s too soon to report.”

After attending a playwriting conference in Cairns and noticing the lopsided ratio of playwrights-to-opportunities, now co-creative directors Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Glyn Roberts founded Melbourne-based MKA: Theatre Of New Writing. Championing original writing since its 2010 conception, MKA has garnered critical acclaim and controversy. A welcome mix of passion and irreverence, Manderson-Galvin explains that after the resounding success of MKA's first producing task – smuggling 50 young playwrights past wary reception staff and into a single room at the Cairns Hilton – MKA was born.

The pair managed to avoid the delay-induced malaise that so often cripples otherwise ambitious theatre-makers. “A lot of people have ideas,” says Manderson-Galvin, “but we had an idea and a space and we're not bound to any funding. There's no limitation to what we can do; we can do it right now.” The Economist, MKA's contribution to World Theatre Festival, he explains is one example of that.

The Economist was written immediately after the 2011 Norwegian massacre perpetrated by right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik who murdered 77 people – the majority of whom were youths attending a political camp on a small island, Utøya. Manderson-Galvin explains that when Utøya happened he was already looking to write a project about the effects of alienation and isolation. “At first it didn't occur to me that [writing about it] was right thing to do,” he says. “It happened in a place that didn't seem entirely different to here. I thought it would be easy to understand because the things that Breivik is saying are things that I've heard before in casual contexts and he cited – among many other people – John Howard and Peter Costello.

“I thought it was worth creating a play about it,” he continues, “because the story had been suppressed by the media. When it first came out, before they knew who it was, the first thing the right-wing press in Europe said was that it was another Islamic terrorist attack. They found out it was a white guy born in Norway and the word 'terrorist' completely disappeared; he became a lone psycho.”

Disturbingly but also fitting, Australia's right-wing press caught wind of the play – which is set in Australia and reconceived with Australian characters – prior to its 2011 debut and painted MKA as sympathising with Breivik's crimes. With the expected hyperbole of tabloid papers the participating press simultaneously accused the playwright of being a “left-wing, money sucking artist” and a “right-wing sympathiser”, which is, he says, “Incredible and worth applauding: that somehow I could be both a left and right-wing extremist at the same time. Congratulations to whoever thought that could work.”

The media accusations of “too soon”, says Manderson-Galvin were nonsensical. “If someone can write about it in the paper then I can write a play about it. No-one says it's too soon to report,” he says. “The newspaper can't be the only people who can write about it. It can't be that they tell us about it and then that's the end.”

Despite the negative attention and at least one less than dignified incident – “Someone came and pissed on my doorstep. But that's fine,” says Manderson-Galvin – the show opened to unequivocal praise. MKA is not expected to generate similar controversy when it comes to the Sunshine State. Frankly, says Manderson-Galvin, “I don't think the play is any more extreme [than] an episode of Yes Minister.”

WHAT: The Economist
WHEN & WHERE: Wednesday 13 to Sunday 17 February - World Theatre Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse QLD