Friday – Daniela Giorgi and the tragic giggle that is politics in a democracy. (theatre review)
Politics was so much more interesting in the 1960’s and 1970’s because it was deep and complex. Communism, like a powerful opposition, offered genuine and radical solutions to the problems of the post-industrial age. When you fought over red wine and Camembert, beer and snags or rice and beans with your neighbor, the arguments outweighed the talk of food, fuel economy and how best to recycle plastics. One got passionate over politics and one was expected to. Tables were hit, chairs were thrown and folk stormed out of rooms – meeting each other with open arms in the pub the next night to continue the banter. This may seem idealized (the reality was more of a Don’s Party) but to a wide-eyed child like myself, watching my red-under-the-bed parents duke it out passionately with my wealthy-blue-blooded Aunt and Uncle, it all seemed so ALIVE. I couldn’t wait to get in there… take up the “pinko” mantle from my parents, carry around my copy of the communist manifesto and sleep with sexy anarchist artists.
Then the Russians chucked it in, and China – who never officially chucked it in but slid toward a strict regime of Reaganomics – was “one of us economically”, and those of us who wanted to fight ideology into the night were suddenly looking like fools in an empty room, trying to show an interest in Cuba. Democracy “won” and despite the generations of Bush’s trying to give us an enemy to fight over (radical Islam just doesn’t cut it as a potent political movement) we were left with luke warm status quo. Political passion was whisked out from under us, particularly my generation, the Gen X-ers, who were primed and ready to get in there, and the ideals that were so table-poundingly important, abandoned with fashion. We discovered too late that we were too late, and all that remained of the passion we’d longed for, was our once feisty parents spending hours at the computer managing their own super fund and tallying up their accumulated wealth, balancing dollars against years.
We’d witnessed some of the best years in political banter and then watched it become meaningless; and they wonder why we got cynical.
In writing Friday, Daniela Giorgi perfectly highlights the tragic impotency of politics when ideology is no longer important. When politics is no longer passionate, that is, when democracy lies unthreatened and at peace, those who would stand up for an ideology and sacrifice their life for it move in other directions and politics becomes available to the uninspired and unimaginative and the downright opportunistic. It becomes about personal vendettas and the sale of newspapers. It has been said before that one of Australia’s problems is that we have had it too easy, because the valiant and the heroic rise up when tragedy strikes and the going gets tough, not when the bike has to be pedaled downhill. In this way, Friday is more than just another political satire – it strikes at the very confused heart of a sleeping democracy, sure of its high walls and confident in its clear, uncluttered path ahead. Too many people involved in the democratic process are too tired, too bored, too inward focused and too unimaginative.
Friday is the story of one politician who decides to stand up and shout something radical. He is naive in many ways, because he thinks the point of his cry will outweigh the method in which it has been delivered. Bill Twomey (an anagram of “timely blow”), minister for transport, clinging to the very last of his youthful idealism, wants free transport for the populace. Why, he argues, do the people have to pay twice for their public transport? At the surface this seems like a wonderful idea, but with the cynicism and multiple agendas at play, the idea is obliterated by the parliamentary white noise, as the media claim there will be a new tax to pay for this, his fellow cabinet members want him to follow due process and not step out of line – ie away from their power – and the opposition use the opportunity to cut off a head that stands tall. Following through on Daniela Giorgi’s point, Democracy kills its own possibility of a proper democratic process, as without a vision the people perish. Despite the laughs and the wit, Giorgi inserts a clarion call to arms at the end of the play for the passion to rise again, and the feeling for what is good about democracy become something worth fighting for.
Right now, the climate couldn’t be better to take on a biting political satire in Australia, after all we have an election coming up that is between two of the blandest, most unimaginative politicians the country has ever seen. Julie Baz’s deft handling of the political material, her superb cast and the current climate work together to bring the play alive and its impossible not to see parallels with our own current Australian democracy. Peter Hayes is a bull-in-a-china shop of a Bill Twomey delivering some of the wittiest lines and puns in a very Australian fashion. His moment reaching for the stars toward the end rounds his personality out taking him from caricature to character and making him very loveable. Gertraud Ingeborg is both the Premier of the state and the cleaner of the parliament in one of those clever little snaps of casting that we love in theatre – to her credit it wasn’t till half way through that I realized she was playing both parts and its a delightful moment when you fit it all together and continue ti enjoy it through the rest of the play. Neither role detracts from the other, only enhancing her very great stage presence. She is a commanding premier and I confess I let out a sigh as I thought of our recently lost, much admired female Prime Minister. Ingeborg and Hayes strength and charisma is backed up by Sarah Robinson and Cherilyn Price who are on form, carrying most of the fine line between ideology and just getting the job done. I thought Price was particularly strong for a few moments she was on stage. David Ritchie is another cast member with potent charisma and tons of experience, making the role of the leader of the opposition (along side his smaller roles) at once sleazy and victim of his own chess moves and counter moves. The rest of the cast is right on target, moving seamlessly around a small stage effortlessly conveying the impression we are looking into the halls and behind the walls of parliament house. David Jefferey’s set design deserves a special shout out because of a clever elevator deign, as does Baz’s ability to move the large cast smoothly around the small stage without a hint of conflict.
The last thing to say about this wonderful night out, is that Friday is on at The Old Fitzroy Theatre, which is a spectacular night of special Sydney fun in itself, the old pub being a great place to grab your wine before you venture in. Friday is showing through to August 31. Go and see it before the election. You can grab your tickets here.