One Voice | A Q&A with Andrew Bovell
A funny and ferocious portrait of a country whose voices might not be in harmony, but cannot be silenced, Anthem is a superbly staged ode to Australia.
We wanted to know why this work is so vital in our current environmental, social and political climate, so we caught up with one of the creators, Andrew Bovell.
Known for his previous work with the Anthem team, Who's Afraid of the Working Class?, he let us know what he thinks makes Australians tick.
Why did you and the team decide to revisit the themes of Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?
We were invited by Daniel Clarke and Arts Centre Melbourne to create a new work to mark the 20th anniversary of the original play. The brief, as it was then, was to test the political temperature of the nation.
How did you all manage to come together again to create Anthem?
We have all remained friends and collaborators over this 20 years working together in a number of different ways and sharing our concerns for theatre and the country.
As in the original work we came together in a series of workshops in Melbourne. We had to know that we still had something vital and relevant to say as a group. We talked and argued and wrestled with the ideas we wanted the work to contain. There were a lot of conversations about race and class and identity. How do we tell these stories with respect and honesty?
It took a long time for each of us to settle on the story we wanted to tell. We travelled a lot on public transport and started to collect stories of people we had seen and incidents that we witnessed and out of this the stories of the play emerged.
Image: Sarah Walker
What has changed in the last 20 years – for you, in theatre, in society?
When we wrote Who’s Afraid… the consequences of Neo Liberalism and economic rationalism were only beginning to be felt and understood. Twenty years later we understand how this has impacted and shaped society.
The social fabric of our society is weaker than it was 20 years ago. Australia seems like a more divided nation and the things that divide us seem sharper.
The way class identifies us and unifies us has become less clear. Identity politics are stronger influence than class now. We have retreated into our separate tribal identities. It is difficult to talk about race and identity at the moment unless your experience is directly from that particular identity. Who tells what stories is contested at the moment.
We are a country that is at odds with its identity and its colonial past.
Social media has become a dominant and social force.
Both Who’s Afraid and Anthem are very much set in Melbourne, what parallels or messages does this new work have for Perth in particular?
The play is set in Melbourne but the stories that it tells could take place in any city and I think Perth audiences will be able to relate to the characters and ideas of the play. It is all about who we are as a people, as a country. It identifies the key points of contested identity and the conflicts that divide us.
Young people, the future generations will remake the country, remake the world in the future. They will make the political and social decisions that will redefine the county. This play is a snap shot of where we are now. We need to understand that in order to move forward.