Hello Beautiful – A Playwright plays a playwright’s life. (Theatre Review)

Hello Beautiful

Griffin Theatre Company and Performing Lines

9-14 July 2018

You can grab tickets here.

Images: Andrew Bott

What is happening when we watch Hannie Rayson perform her own writings about her own life on the stage in Hello Beautiful? What is it to see a playwright write their life in snippets laced with meaning and symbolism, translate this herself into a staged monologue and re-interpret the work as an actor? Is this an historian with an epistemic subject? Is this an artistic work of self analysis? Is this a literary enquiry into the role of the subject, albeit a heterogeneous one? For Hannie Rayson there is clearly a relationship between poetic language and revolution, even if it is no longer causal nor immediate, as she suggests she imagined (hoped) it might be in her youth. When young, she gestures toward a writing that taps into Sartres notion of ‘engagement.’ For example, Sartre saw Mallarme as a calculatingly devoted writer dedicated primarily to his refusal of the ‘bourgeois stupidity’ of his time which was to refuse the ‘brutish instincts or the dark history of his sexuality.’ [1] Hannie Rayson instead emphasizes the signifiers in her life, showing how closely her writing practice might parallel a logic of the unconscious, as driven and dark as that might be. As we watch Hannie on the stage, an assertion of immunity, an agency as an appeal to freedom lends itself to us and we find ourselves refusing the materialism or economical definitions of the culture around us.

This is no wild anarchism. Hannie Rayson is part of Australia’s ‘institutionalised intelligentsia’ after all. Rather this is a dialectical process at work, one that has its source in infancy and continues through sexual differentiation. Hannie Rayson’s performance of her play of her book of her life comprises drives and impulses on one hand and the family and society structures on the other. For Hannie Rayson, opposites (child/miscarriage, mother/artist, ‘real’ woman/feminist) sit comfortably within and are expressed through language. Hello Beautiful then, because of language, becomes interesting from a Freudian/linguistic perspective. Hannie Rayson shares her stories as the playwright. We Know Her (and her husband Michael Cathcart – a name dropped with careful emphasis during the show) as who she is to us as Australian’s. Yet Hello Beautiful is not memoir. It is an Australian literary Icon telling stories about living in Australia. Hannie Rayson is not in the business of linguistics and yet she opens these observations via language to practices which realize themselves, which go beyond themselves and imprint on the Australian observational landscape with monolithic characteristics. We feel something strong when Hannie Rayson tells these stories, and we have sense of solidarity that evokes a nationalism that we can’t speak easily.

Usually one confronts the work of theatre, with ones preconceived or ideal notion of what that work should be. The text that is analysed is actually the effect of the dialectical interplay between the meaning and its broader contexts; semiotics and symbolism. Here the work is texture. It is the texture of Hannie Rayson’s life and the texture of what it is to be an Australian engaged with Australian literature. In this way Hello Beautiful is a “connection of threads, filaments, or other slender bodies interwoven” (Webster) yet, the text is unfinished rather than a closed loop. Hannie Rayson stands before us, vibrant with the promise of more work; An Australian writer ready to deliver.  Hello Beautiful is in a perpetual kind of flux as different audiences and readers intervene, as their knowledge deepens and as history moves on.  We go to see one of our writers, one of our own, tell us back to ourselves.

Hello Beautiful is a lovely little production interwoven to determine a poetic night of shared experience. Stories are spun threads of gold actualized in the delightful energy of this wonderful writer and her cheeky, joyful spirit. Issues cultural and social transform into connective language that easily invites and involves the audience. Hello Beautiful has been touring the country and has been a huge success everywhere it goes, and it is very easy to understand why. If you have a chance to catch this lovely production, make sure you do.

[1] Quote taken from the Introduction by Leon S. Roudiez to revolution in Poetic language by Julia Kristeva