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Winners

2019 winner Theatre for Young Audiences y separately published work icon A Ghost in My Suitcase Vanessa Bates , 2018 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2019 14907765 2018 single work drama children's

'The spirits you carry, they carry you too.

'Twelve-year-old Celeste arrives in China to scatter Mother’s ashes, but in no time flat is thrust into a world of magic and adventure. Celeste’s grandmother has carried on the family tradition of ghost catching, and it turns out Celeste has a knack for the hairraising pursuit too.'  (Production summary)

2019 winner Community and Youth Theatre Yellow Yellow Sometimes Blue Noëlle Janaczewska , 2018 single work drama

'Early evening. Autumn 1954. In a house beside the Nepean River a young woman is crying. Iris is chopping onions while Leo cooks the wild mushrooms he picked that morning. Iris is growing up at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Leo is making a new life for himself after fleeing war-ravaged Europe.

'Yellow Yellow Sometimes Blue is the story of Iris and Leo. They’re two outsiders peeking in at a world of money, power and gossip as they prepare canapés and cocktails for a debaucherous gathering of Sydney’s cultural elite. Tracing the roots of Sydney’s early Modernist thinking, it is performed by Adam Booth and Kate Worsley, designed by Katja Handt and features the live music of cellist Me-Lee Hay. It’s a 60ish minute story of surviving and thriving as an outsider looking in.'

Source: Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

2019 winner y separately published work icon The Harp in the South Trilogy : The Play : Parts One and Two Kate Mulvany , Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2018 11940858 2018 single work drama

'A great Australian novel. A landmark theatre event. A portrait of Sydney as it once was.

'The world premieres of The Harp in the South: Part One and The Harp in the South: Part Two are designed to be enjoyed as one unforgettable, epic theatrical experience.

'This major new work is one of the most ambitious productions STC has ever created. Celebrated playwright Kate Mulvany has adapted novelist Ruth Park’s revered Australian trilogy – Missus, The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange – and spread these beloved stories across two equally ambitious plays.

'The two parts stand alone, but together they offer over five hours of monumental, exuberant theatre. It’s a moving family saga and a celebration of Sydney in all its funny, gritty glory.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

2018 winner Community and Youth Theatre y separately published work icon The Hum Angela Betzien , 2017 14128016 2017 single work drama

'In Angela Betzien's play The Hum, a photojournalist sits in an airport toilet cubicle and contemplates taking her life with a pair of shoelaces. As the final boarding call is announced for Flight 404 to Singapore, she leaves the cubicle, shoelaces in hand, and rushes to gate Number 24. She settles in her seat but there is trouble on board, and take-off is delayed. Finally, the plane is in the air and the journey begins. Or does it? For soon it becomes clear that this is not an ordinary journey. Is it real or is it a dream? Are we seeing the last visions of a woman soon to be dead?'

Source: University of Wollogong (https://lha.uow.edu.au/taem/performances/UOW231684.html). (Sighted: 29/06/2018)

2018 winner y separately published work icon Rice Michele Lee , 2014 Fortitude Valley : Playlab , 2016 9703058 2014 single work drama

'Rice explores the business of global food production, namely rice, and women in business. There are two main characters. The central character is Nisha. She’s 28, a young and precocious corporate hotshot working as the Executive Officer of Golden Fields, Australia’s biggest rice company. She’s a second generation Indian. Yvette is 61, Chinese; she’s a cleaner in the Golden Fields building. Golden Fields is in Melbourne; Nisha and Yvette play all the other characters.

'Nisha is close to sealing a confidential contract with the Indian government, which would see Golden Fields taking over India’s public food distribution systems – rice is a major staple distributed through this system. This secret contract is worth billions. When a flood in one of the southern states in India looks to distract the government and delay the deal, Nisha decides that she needs to go to India to finalise the contract in person, taking with her Graeme, the CEO, and Tom, the marketing manager that Nisha has romantic feelings for.

'Yvette’s daughter, Sheree, is facing charges for a protest that resulted in the assault of the CEO of Coles.'

Source: Author's website (http://www.michelevanlee.com.au/current-projects/rice/) (Sighted: 12/07/2016)

2018 winner Music Theatre Muriel's Wedding : The Musical P. J. Hogan , Kate Miller-Heidke (composer), Keir Nuttall (composer), 2017 single work musical theatre

'Muriel Heslop is back! In this highly-anticipated world premiere, the iconic Australian film is set to become an equally iconic laugh-out-loud musical.

'Stuck in a dead-end life in Porpoise Spit, Muriel dreams of the perfect wedding – the white dress, the church, the attention. Unfortunately, there’s one thing missing. A groom. Following her dreams to Sydney, Muriel ends up with everything she ever wanted – a man, a fortune and a million Twitter followers. That’s when things start to go really wrong.

'The film’s original writer-director PJ Hogan has updated his screenplay into a dazzling new stage show, bringing the story into the present but keeping all the irreverence and naughtiness of the film along with its dark edge.' (Production summary)

2018 winner Theatre for Young Audiences y separately published work icon My Robot Finegan Kruckemeyer , 2018 13416390 2018 single work drama children's science fiction

'When Ophelia moves with her family to the seaside, she’s not impressed. She doesn’t like the beach, misses her old home and thinks the people in this town are pretty strange. While unpacking her room she discovers a mysterious box full of gadgets, parts and pieces, and a strange note that reads ‘You. Make. Me.’ Her curiosity gets the better of her and she spends all night assembling the objects into Olivetti, a robot with a typewriter chest and an alarm clock heart. Made up of pieces, but more than the sum of her parts.

'Together Ophelia and Olivetti take on the local bully and make friends with a child so worried about allergies that he never leaves the house, all while trying to keep her dad from discovering that Olivetti is really a robot. But a bigger challenge is coming – can the pair save their friend and reunite him with his mother?

'My Robot takes audiences of all ages on a rambunctious adventure filled with robot antics, laughter, daring rescues and bewildered parents, all told with the care and artistry synonymous with Barking Gecko’s award winning shows. Children will discover that we’re all just made from pieces, and that when we feel less than whole we can find – or make – a part that fits!'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

2017 winner y separately published work icon The Drover's Wife Leah Purcell , Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2016 11151204 2016 single work drama

'If anyone can write a full-throttle drama of our colonial past, it’s the indomitable Leah Purcell.

'We all know Henry Lawson’s story of the Drover’s Wife. Her stoic silhouette against an unforgiving landscape, her staring down of the serpent; it’s the frontier myth captured in a few pages. In Leah’s new play the old story gets a very fresh rewrite. Once again the Drover’s Wife is confronted by a threat in her yard, but now it’s a man. He’s bleeding, he’s got secrets, and he’s black. She knows there’s a fugitive wanted for killing whites, and the district is thick with troopers, but something’s holding the Drover’s Wife back from turning this fella in…

'A taut thriller of our pioneering past, with a black sting to the tail, The Drover’s Wife reaches from our nation’s infancy into our complicated present. And best of all, Leah’s playing the Wife herself.' (Publication summary)

2016 winner The Bleeding Tree Angus Cerini , 2015 single work drama

'In an isolated farmhouse, outside a small country town – a woman and her daughters have just killed their abusive man of the house. Known throughout the district as a cur and a dog, the women set about disposing of his body. However their task becomes fraught when several of the local villagers choose to pay a visit and grow suspicious at their behaviour – will their act become exposed before they can dispose of the body? A lyrical exploration of family, violence and revenge against a backdrop of a brutal, rural Australian landscape.' (Play summary)

2015 winner y separately published work icon Jump for Jordan Donna Abela , 2013 Sydney : Currency Press , 2014 6390303 2013 single work drama (taught in 1 units)

'Aspiring archaeologist Lola left home when she was only 20, much to the shame of her traditional Jordanian mother. Six years later, losing sleep and petrified by the judgement of her visiting ‘mad Arab’ Aunty Azza, Lola is forced to lie about her life, her career and the existence of her Aussie partner. Worst of all is the fear that she’s also lying to herself.

'Looking deep into the heart of Sydney and beyond, 'Jump for Jordan' unpacks the experience common to countless second-generation Australians of being caught between two cultures. Sifting through shifting layers of past and present, farce and fantasy, it’s one woman’s mad, messy excavation of her own history, and her attempt to piece together the broken bits of her identity. ' (Source: Griffin Theatre website)

2014 winner y separately published work icon The Secret River Andrew Bovell , 2013 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2013 Z1887820 2013 single work drama (taught in 2 units)

'Convict William Thornhill, exiled from the stinking slums of early 19th century London, discovers that the penal colony offers something that he never dared to hope for before: a place of his own. A stretch of land on the Hawkesbury River is Thornhill’s for the taking.

'As he and his family seek to establish themselves in this unfamiliar territory, they find that they are not the only ones to lay a claim to the land. The Hawkesbury is already home to a family of Dharug people, who are reluctant to leave on account of these intruders.

As Thornhill’s attachment to the place and the dream deepens, he is driven to make a terrible decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.' (Source: Currency Press website)

2012 winner y separately published work icon Silent Disco Lachlan Philpott , 2009 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2011 Z1625682 2009 single work drama

'Tamara and Jasyn are in love. Tamara is fourteen. Jasyn lives with Aunty and his brother Dane is in prison for dealing. Jasyn wants to take Tamara to the formal, but he hasn't got the cash.

'In a world of absent mothers and missing fathers, Mrs Petchell battles to keep another year of students out of the ranks of the vanished. The Outsiders is on the syllabus again, but instead of Socs and Greasers, this is the world of Speds and Skanks - fuelled by Red Bull and powered by iPods. It can be hard to find your own rhythm when everyone is marching to the beat of a different drum.' (From the publisher's website.)

2011 winner Do Not Go Gentle... Patricia Cornelius , 2006 single work drama humour
— Appears in: Do Not Go Gentle and The Berry Man : Two Plays 2011; (p. 1-63)
This play juxtaposes the journeys towards death of members of Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition with that of residents in an Australian nursing home.
2010 winner y separately published work icon And No More Shall We Part Tom Holloway , 2008 (Manuscript version)x402175 Z1827273 2008 single work drama

'After a long and successful marriage, Pam and Don are still very much in love. But Pam is ill and has to make a heartbreaking decision that will transform both their lives. She does so in the only way she knows how - quickly, pragmatically, and resolutely. Don behaves in the only way he knows how - struggling to keep up but desperate not to lose touch.

'And No More Shall We Part follows Pam and Don's halting, humorous and devastating attempt at the impossible - to begin to say goodbye to each other after a lifetime together.' (From the publisher's website.)

2009 winner y separately published work icon When the Rain Stops Falling Andrew Bovell , 2008 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2009 Z1430823 2008 single work drama (taught in 8 units)

'It begins with a miracle. On a rainy day in Alice Springs in 2039 a fish falls like manna from heaven to bless the reunion of a father with his long lost son. Perhaps it's a sign that the pattern of betrayal and abandonment that began on another rainy day in London in 1959 will come to an end.

'Who'll stop the rain? Andrew Bovell's award-winning When the Rain Stops Falling is powerful storytelling in which the voices of our past echo into our future.' (Publisher's blurb)

2008 winner y separately published work icon Beyond the Neck Tom Holloway , 2007 Brisbane : Playlab , 2008 Z1518089 2007 single work drama (taught in 1 units)

'Profoundly affected by the events at Port Arthur in 1996, Tom Holloway (who was 17 at the time) was moved to write this play. Based on in-depth interviews and years of research, the story is set ten years later and celebrates the power of community and recovery.'

Source: Is Theatre website, http://www.istheatre.com
Sighted: 05/09/2007

2007 winner Holding the Man Tommy Murphy , 2006 single work drama
— Appears in: Strangers in Between [and] Holding the Man : Two Plays 2006; (p. 65-161)
2006 winner y separately published work icon Love Patricia Cornelius , 2003 Hobart : Australian Script Centre , 2004 Z1226600 2003 single work drama (taught in 1 units) 'Tanya, Annie and Lorenzo are on the bottom of the heap. They're young but already the youth has been wrung out of them. They've been abused, they're abusive, and they're difficult to like let alone to love. But it is love in all its distorted and mutated forms that holds them together. Annie and Tanya make a pact; their love will protect them from an unloving world and it will endure. Even the dreadful and charming Lorenzo will not threaten it. Only doubt in each other's love can put a wedge between them.' (Back cover, Currency Press, 2006)
2005 winner y separately published work icon The Spook Melissa Reeves , 2004 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press , 2005 Z1154111 2004 single work drama
2004 winner y separately published work icon Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America : A Drama in 30 Scenes Stephen Sewell , Sydney Melbourne : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 2003 Z1037273 2003 single work drama (taught in 3 units)
2003 winner y separately published work icon Mavis Goes to Timor Angela Chaplin , Paola Kavisha Mazzella , Katherine Thomson , 2002 Sydney : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 2003 Z1011419 2002 single work drama (taught in 1 units)

'The true story of Mavis, an 86 year old retired haberdasher from regional Victoria. Stung into action by the suffering of the East Timorese, Mavis took her sewing machines to Timor and set about making a practical contribution. Amid the destruction and buoyed by the people's overwhelming faith Mavis tackles the bureaucracy. This work is based on stories told by Mavis Taylor, Elwyn Taylor and the women of East Timor.' Libraries Australia record.

2002 winner y separately published work icon Holy Day The Red Sea Andrew Bovell , Sydney : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 2001 Z900872 2001 single work drama (taught in 2 units)

'On the white frontier in mid-nineteenth century Australia, a lone, bloodied woman arrives at a traveller's rest in the midst of a violent desert storm with a shocking story to tell. Aborigines have allegedly murdered her husband and stolen her infant child. But an Aboriginal woman has a different story to tell. What would cause a missionary's wife to lie? What chance does the word of an Aboriginal woman have against hers? A chilling mystery that draws together the lives of four extraordinary women and their men, all struggling to survive in a hostile and misunderstood landscape. (1 act, 4 male, 4 female).' (Publication summary)

2000 winner y separately published work icon The Private Visions of Gottfried Kellner Timothy Daly , 1999 Hobart : Australian Script Centre , 2000 Z1810175 1999 single work drama 'Bank manager Jack Kellner, is haunted by visions, the meaning of which he cannot fathom. A chance meeting with the descendant of a Holocaust survivor proves fatal when she immolates herself in front of him. He is later visited by the dead woman's sister, who enlists Jack's help to recover their grandfather's stolen bank accounts, confiscated by the Nazis in World War Two. In their crusade for justice Jack and his wife Kym are drawn into a 'conspiracy of good', but must confront a world of danger and corruption, and face the inevitable compromises of ethical action. The story, told in flashbacks, is framed by a series of chilling scenes in which Kym is interrogated by Swiss bank hit-man Raiven.

'Part political thriller, part social satire, "The Private Visions of Gottfried Kellner" asks what the power of personal idealism is in the face of international corporate banking and the atrocities of the past.'

Source: AustralianPlays website, http://australianplays.org/
Sighted: 27/09/2011
1999 winner Original Who's Afraid of the Working Class? Andrew Bovell , Patricia Cornelius , Melissa Reeves , Christos Tsiolkas , Irine Vela (composer), Julian Meyrick (editor), 1998 single work drama (taught in 1 units)
— Appears in: Melbourne Stories : Three Plays 2000; (p. 1-103)
1999 winner Adaptation y separately published work icon Cloudstreet Nick Enright , Justin Monjo , 1998 Sydney Perth : Currency Press Company B Belvoir Black Swan Theatre Company , 1999 Z396116 1998 single work drama (taught in 2 units) Tim Winton's quintessential Australian yarn of the spirited child Fish, his family and unlikely neighbours - sharing determination, faith, pain, and laughter is a story of love and the bonds that tie us to our sense of place. Hailed as one of the most acclaimed theatrical events of the decade, it is a five hour epic. (Source: Libraries Australia)
1998 winner Rodeo Noir Andrea Lemon , 1996 single work drama young adult humour Mickey is a cowgirl...a rodeo rider...and the best son her dad ever had. Now she wants to ride the broncs, but the Ladies Bronc Ride was outlawed thirty years ago. Mickey's mum Nel, died when she was six. But when Mickey finds a photo of her mother in the arms of a handsome cowboy, she starts stirring up the bulldust. In to the arena rides Starr, a 60-year-old yodelling cowgirl of dubious gender. Eadie lives her life like she's the star of an old Western. With hair bigger than Texas, and toting more hairspray than talent, Eadie and her band the Starrlets, blow Mickey's tight knit world off rodeo wide apart. (The Australian Script Centre, http://www.ozscript.org/index.htm)
1997 winner y separately published work icon Speaking in Tongues Andrew Bovell , 1996 Strawberry Hills : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 1998 Z166331 1996 single work drama (taught in 10 units)
1996 winner y separately published work icon Blackrock Nick Enright , 1995 1995 Paddington : Currency Press , 1996 Z298832 1995 single work drama (taught in 2 units)
1993 winner Original y separately published work icon The Girl Who Saw Everything Alma De Groen , 1991 Paddington : Currency Press , 1993 Z263116 1991 single work drama (taught in 6 units)
1992 winner y separately published work icon The Boys Gordon Graham , 1991 Paddington : Currency Press , 1994 Z273156 1991 single work drama (taught in 7 units)
1991 winner y separately published work icon Hotel Sorrento Hannie Rayson , Sydney Melbourne : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 1990 Z481931 1990 single work drama (taught in 3 units)

Hotel Sorrento is a vivid, moving and funny play which explores the concept of loyalty both to family and to country. Three sisters come together after ten years: Hilary who lives in Sorrento with her father and her sixteen-year-old son; Pippa visiting from New York where she works in advertising; and Meg, who returns home from England with her English husband after her new novel Melancholy is shortlisted for the Booker prize. Unspoken aspects of their shared past, jolted by the autobiographical flavour of Meg's book, haunt their reunion.

Coincidentally, Marge, a teacher, with a holiday house in Sorrento, reads the novel and finds it captures an Australia she knows. Her friend, Dick, however, is worried by Meg's expatriate status. This interest draws them into the family where the issues of culture, patriotism, and using the past are battled out.

Source: Publisher's blurb (back cover).

1990 winner y separately published work icon Daylight Saving Nick Enright , 1989 Sydney : Currency Press , 1990 Z329251 1989 single work drama humour
1988 winner Original y separately published work icon Emerald City David Williamson , 1986 (Manuscript version)x402006 Z1507280 1986 single work drama
1987 winner y separately published work icon Away Michael Gow , Sydney : Currency Press Playbox Theatre , 1986 Z130562 1986 single work drama
— Appears in: ラブ・チャイルド : アウェイ 2006;

'Commencing with a school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespearean themes of suffering and reconciliation persist as three families on separate holidays are united during a fierce storm.

'Immigrants Harry and Vic love their adopted country but are faced with their son Tom’s terminal illness. Jim and Gwen fret over their daughter Meg’s blossoming independence and her friendship with the socially unsuitable Tom. Roy is unable to console a grief-stricken Coral over the death of their only son in Vietnam.

'But with the help of some Shakespearean fairies and a spectacular storm, these families are reconciled and face the future anew.

'For two decades audiences have been enthralled by this story about the coming of age of both a group of individuals and the country in which they live. Despite being set almost 40 years ago, this multi-award winning play is as relevant as ever with its themes of reconciliation and loss.

'Away is sharply observed, clever, funny and yet very moving. Out of the familiar family ingredients, Gow has constructed a magical play that every Australian can relate to. It depicts the hopes of a new generation, prompting us to consider what is ultimately most important in our lives.' (Publication summary)

1986 joint winner Original y separately published work icon Room to Move Hannie Rayson , Montmorency : Yackandandah Playscripts , 1985 Z141803 1985 single work drama (taught in 2 units)
1986 joint winner Original y separately published work icon No Sugar Jack Davis , 1980 (Manuscript version)x400874 Z264453 1980 single work drama (taught in 21 units)
— Appears in: ドリーマーズ : ノー・シュガー 2006;

'The spirited story of the Millimurra family’s stand against government ‘protection’ policies in 1930s Australia.' (From the publisher's website.)

1985 winner Original y separately published work icon Machiavelli, Machiavelli John Upton , 1984 (Manuscript version)x401050 Z375603 1984 single work drama humour
1984 winner y separately published work icon Two Ron Elisha , 1983 Sydney : Currency Press , 1985 Z206122 1983 single work drama
1983 winner y separately published work icon Welcome the Bright World Stephen Sewell , 1982 s.l. : s.n. , 1982 (Manuscript version)x401852 Z246035 1982 single work drama
1982 winner Original y separately published work icon Einstein Ron Elisha , 1980 (Manuscript version)x401096 Z151582 1980 single work drama
1981 winner y separately published work icon Demolition Job Gordon Graham , 1980 Montmorency : Yackandandah Playscripts , 1984 Z244790 1980 single work drama
1980 joint winner y separately published work icon Travelling North David Williamson , 1978 (Manuscript version)x402014 Z1515731 1978 single work drama Frank and Frances find new life in a twilight love affair, to the consternation of their conventional children. Their dream takes them north to the sun; but no sooner do they find their idyll than signs of mortality betray Frank's lion spirit. Travelling North is David Williamson's tribute to the generation that fought for change in Australia from the 30s to the 70s; and reaches the rueful conclusion that the legacy of such self-determination is narrow-mindedness and the need for love. (Publisher's blurb, back cover).
1980 joint winner y separately published work icon Upside Down at the Bottom of the World David Allen , Melbourne : Heinemann Education Australia , 1981 Z56576 1981 single work drama
1979 winner y separately published work icon Marx Ron Blair , 1978 single work drama
1978 winner y separately published work icon The Club David Williamson , 1976 (Manuscript version)x402003 Z1506538 1976 single work drama (taught in 14 units)
1977 winner y separately published work icon The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin Steve J. Spears , 1975 (Manuscript version)x400851 Z481058 1975 single work drama

'The elocution lessons of a boy named Benjamin Franklin bring about the destruction of his teacher, a timid transvestite whose only sexual activity takes place in the world of fantasy.'

Source: 'Noble Technique', Canberra Times, 19 March 1977, p.15.

1975 winner y separately published work icon How Does Your Garden Grow : A Play Jim McNeil , Sydney : Currency Press , 1974 Z49063 1974 single work drama
1974 joint winner y separately published work icon President Wilson in Paris Ron Blair , 1973 (Manuscript version)x401078 Z25979 1973 single work drama
1974 joint winner Bon-Bons and Roses for Dolly Dorothy Hewett , 1972 single work musical theatre
— Appears in: Westerly , December no. 4 1972; (p. 22-36)
A musical look back at the 1930s, Bon-bons and Roses for Dolly is set in the Crystal Palace movie theatre, now a left-over dream factory, where for almost all of her life Dolly has sought consolation from the world at the sleazy alter of Hollywood. Dolly's life has also seen her surrounded by several symbolic female figures: Mary Corker, the strong intellectual grandmother who represents emotional sterility; Dolly's mother, Maddy, the older victim-dreamer without province; and Ollie Pullett, described by Hewett in her 1979 Hecate article as both the 'indomitable survivor and the final apotheosis of lower middle class suburbia... the voice of commonsense gone berserk' ('Creating Heroines' p77). When Dolly's dream world finally crumbles she finds herself middle aged, searching desperately in the blackened mirror of the old suburban fleapit for the ghost of the girl she once was. The reality is too much for her and she shoots herself during a re-run of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
1973 winner y separately published work icon Don's Party David Williamson , 1971 1971 (Manuscript version)x402002 Z1505961 1971 single work drama satire (taught in 17 units)
1972 winner y separately published work icon The Removalists David Williamson , 1971 Sydney : Currency Press , 1972 Z365225 1971 single work drama (taught in 12 units)

A young policeman’s first day on duty becomes a violent and highly charged initiation into law enforcement. Remarkable for its blend of boisterous humour and horrifying violence, the play has acquired a reputation as a classic statement on Australian authoritarianism and is a key work in the study of Australian drama.

(Publication Synopsis)

1971 winner y separately published work icon The Legend of King O'Malley Michael Boddy , Bob Ellis , 1970 (Manuscript version)x400882 Z247318 1970 single work musical theatre humour

A music theatre burlesque based on the real life King O'Malley, a Texan born banker, real estate salesman, insurance agent, and founder of a religious movement, who came to Australia in 1893 under the belief that he was dying of consumption. After arriving at Emu Bay, Queensland, O'Malley spent some two years living in a cave before eventually walking from Rockhampton, seemingly cured of the disease, all the way to Adelaide. He became the MHA of Encounter Bay (South Australia) up until 1899, then a member of the House of Representatives (1901-17), in addition to undertaking the position of Minister for Home Affairs (1910-13, 1915-16). He retired from politics in 1917. O'Malley is also recognised for his role in opening the trans-continental railway and for his significant input into Labour reform and social legislation during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Ellis and Boddy portray O'Malley as a doubtful, though likeable/heroic, character whose early schemes are seen to mock several social institutions. In the first part of the play we encounter the loud-mouthed O'Malley leaving for Australia (accompanied by Mr Angel, a devil who acts as his spirit of conscience). In line with the real historical account O'Malley is also seen befriending the aborigines and standing for parliament. In the second part a debate begins between O'Malley and Billy Hughes, with the visionary O'Malley battling for several future initiatives, while Hughes argues for conscription. At this point the ensemble of actors take on a variety of roles, notably embers of parliament, as they satirise the image of these 'honourable representatives of government'.

The Legend Of King O'Malley has been described by Leonard Radic as : 'a rumbustious piece of musical theatre... [drawing] consciously on the traditions of panto, music hall, revue and vaudeville. The script [includes] hymns, songs, a revivalist meeting and a pageant or two... the result was a piece of pastiche theatre which explored its subject with larrikin abandon, and without concessions to good taste or manners' (State of Play 1991, p70). The musical element of the play, according to its authors, is 'a bit of a grab-bag. This is not a musical,' they write in the 1974 Angus and Robertson edition, ' it is a play with music.... use as few or as many of the [songs] as you like; and put in your own favourites if you wish. "Happy Land," "In the Service of the King," and "Hold the Fort," should be used where marked" (xxii). Other songs suggested, and which were used in the original Jane Street production include: 'I Surrender All', 'Go Little Pennies', 'Wonderful Words of Life', 'Lead on King Eternal', 'I've Found a Friend', 'Go Tell it to Jesus', 'What a Friend', 'Hey There! You're an Australian', and 'Onward Christian Soldiers'.

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