To paraphrase Dorothea Mackellar, “We love our sunburnt country”.
Our beautiful culture reflects an abundance of core beliefs, sport, barbeques and a strong sense of community. This culture is what makes Australian plays so unique; it blends our ripper lifestyle in ways that we love. Take a look at some of our 10 of our favourite Aussie Plays! While there’s so many out there to choose from, these pieces are some of the most popular and most loved.
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
By Ray Lawler
Known as the turning point in Australian theatre, this iconic piece has been engaging audiences since 1955. Set in Carlton, Melbourne in 1953, it revolves around the events of the seventeenth summer, when two mates decide to live it up in the city with their girlfriends during a five-month off-season from sugar farming. However, this summer is not as blissful as the last, as tensions finally boil.
Lawler’s gripping drama captures the heat and mugginess of a blistering Aussie summer and the harsh environment within the average suburban house. It’s an excellent piece of historical theatre that captures the essence of a sunburnt country and the characters who live within it.
By Nick Enright
How far would you go to cover for your mates? In the fictional town of Blackrock, a local surfing legend returns home to an unsupervised party that soon turns sour. With the raping and murder of a teenager named Tracy, the play veers into themes of guilt, mateship and grief.
Enright’s play presents how a local town reacts to a difficult situation. This confronting piece engages audiences as the issues continue to be as prevalent as they were in the late 90s.
By Louis Nowra
Mental illness is no stranger to the stage, but none explore it quite as poignantly as ‘COSI’. Set in a mental institution in the early 70s, Lewis is hired to help a group of patients perform a play. However, he is taken on a life-altering ride when they start rehearsing Mozart’s famous opera, ‘Cosi Fan Tutte.
The original approach to addressing mental health with relatable characters, slick natural dialogue and flawed perceptions is the reason why ‘COSI’ has been a staple within professional and community theatres across the country.
By Hilary Bell
In a quiet, remote town, a small child is murdered. A young mother is convinced her nine-year-old daughter was behind the terrible act. Torn by the hard choice of ignoring her gut or turning her daughter over to the authorities, the narrative tells the harrowing story of a mother ripped apart by guilt and loyalty. At the same time, the adults around her begin to question their beliefs.
With a gashing impact that leaves the audience questioning, the intensity of this piece has made it a fixture all around Aussie theatres and schools.
The Female of the Species
By Joanna Murray-Smith
A modern satire on hypocrisy, this cracker follows author Margot Mason who is suffering writer’s block when a crazed former student takes her hostage. The student wants an apology for the misinformation the author put in a previous book – information that led her mother to kill herself.
Murray-Smith’s corker of a play is packed full of jokes and witty dialogue, making it a crowd favourite from this prolific writer.
When The Rain Stops Falling
By Andrew Bovell
This family saga follows the lives of seven connected characters over 80 years – from Australia to England, past and future. It explores the impact of words and actions and how repetition causes chaos within people and the world.
This complex play explores sombre themes and intricate plotlines— a stimulating, brilliant and surreal piece that captivates audiences and leaves them questioning.
By David Williamson
This piece tells the story of two police officers who are assigned to help two sisters remove furniture from an abusive partner. However, the officers only agree to the removalist job in return for the possibility of sex. When the officers go to the home, their true colours come out when they find out one of the sisters is an adulterer. The officers become agitated when the abusive partner, Kenny, returns home. Tensions escalate and Kenny is nearly fatally injured. In a panic, the officers try to figure out the best way to avoid the consequences for their actions and end up doing something genuinely unpleasant to clear their name.
A skewed look at morality, this piece has stayed in people’s minds for decades due to its harsh look at how far people will go to cover themselves.
By Hannie Rayson
In the seaside town of Sorrento, three sisters reunite in the town after a ten-year hiatus. Hilary lives in the family home in Sorrento with her father and 16-year-old son. Her sisters – Pippa, a businesswoman from New York and Meg, a successful writer – return to the town and feel the constraints of family life. This leads to the tension that only a family can garner.
This semi-autobiographical play unapologetically holds a mirror up towards society. With themes of national identity, misogyny and mental health, this text is as relevant today as when this production first hit the stage in 1990.
Last Cab to Darwin
By Reg Cribb
This script is based upon the true story of Max Bell, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In the story, he decides he wants to end his life with dignity. So he sells everything and begins driving his cab to Darwin, in a journey that will see him end his life under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.
Under all its subject matter there is a lot of dark Aussie humour. This is a piece that is real and touching. With a clear message, it promotes that the only thing that stops you from living is fear, not death.
The Sum of Us
By David Stevens
In an ordinary house lives two blokes – Harry and his gay son, Jeff. Harry loves his son and supports him through everything, including footy, work, and finding “Mr Right”. Jeff loves his dad and wants him to find “Mrs Right”. They both find luck, with Jeff bringing Greg home. Greg gets the shock of his life with how open Harry is to his sexuality, as he doesn’t have the same experience at home. Later on, Harry invites over Joyce, who he met through a dating agency. Sadly, neither date works out for the boys, and as things start again, tragedy strikes.
A powerful story from the 90s that ties serious issues in with a super casual Aussie style, thus allowing the themes of sexual identity, bigotry and family love to be seen in a different light. A surefire favourite of anyone who’s ever seen it.
This list merely scratches the surface of the brilliance of Australian plays. Our love for homegrown stories will continue to draw us in and give us our unique identity. Fair dinkum – have you got some favourite Aussie plays?