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August 3, 2021

Simply Incorruptible

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Mongrel Arts Project and the Drill Hall Theatre Company present Lois Nowra’s classic Australian tragicomedy, The Incorruptible.

The Echo spoke with director and actor Gregory Aitken.

Why did you choose the play?

I have always admired Louis Nowra as a playwright and would mount an argument that he is Australia’s best. Last year I re-read The Incorruptible and thought that it was such a fantastic play about Australian political corruption that I had just had to produce it. Though it was written in 1995, The Incorruptible resonates strongly with our world today. If you want to understand the mess we are in, see this play.

What does it say about the political landscape?

The play tells about the rise of a demagogue who is anti-democratic, anti-social justice and believes in selling off public assets to private enterprise. Sound familiar? Ion Stafford (played by Daryl White) is a complex man, a loner, who is driven by his strong will and the need to change the world into his or his parents’ straightened image. The character is based on the Depression, southern USA politician Huey Long, and Queensland’s Joh Bjelke Petersen. He could be any number of right-wing politicians in Australia, the USA and Europe now. Ion Stafford is a beguiling sociopath. The fun of the play is that the audience may be charmed by his simplistic view of the world and then horrified that they are.

How did you cast?

Initially I asked the activist/ actor Tony Barry to direct The Incorruptible as I wanted to play the part of the political kingmaker Ed Gablich (Gabo) because it is such a fantastic comic role. Tony had other things on and rightly suggested that I was too old for the part. So I thought bugger it, I will direct it, and who better to play the role of Gabo than John Rado (I do, however, make a guest appearance as the judge Simon Porter). John Rado is a filmmaker and a film actor who, sadly, has not worked on stage for far too long. I sent the script to John, who accepted the role the next day. I then sat down and jotted down whom else I wanted to play the other ten characters. This is my perfect cast and crew. The production is designed by Sue Rado (John’s wife) and includes Michael Hennessy as assistant director and Sunita Bailey as lighting designer.

How does delving into the political past help us understand who we are today? By the way, who are we today?

There are two quotations that inform our production. The first is by the late American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

‘As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It’s irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of the pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober.’

The other I found in a recent Monthly article by Richard Cooke: ‘They (the American people) have decided the system is a circus, so they are sending in a clown. Trump marks the point at which many Americans decided their politics was so corrupt that he would be incorruptible.’ Well if that’s the case they got it wrong.

For most of us working on The Incorruptible, the play has been a form of therapy in how to cope in these unsettling times.

Why are we are drawn to psychopaths as leaders?

There is certainly a case that Ion Stafford, The Incorruptible, is a psychopath but I will let the audience decide. Louise Porter (played by Kasadevi Curtis,) who is the premier’s press secretary, is the metaphor for the populace, the audience. At first she finds Ion Stafford repulsive but slowly falls in love with him. In uncertain times people are attracted by politicians who have convictions. These days they are usually always on the right. So the evangelical conservative right-wing politicians’ simple message of selling a pipe dream attracts the gullible and desperate, while the left offers a kind of mourning for the end of the world. This production of The Incorruptible provides a portal of mutually entertaining anguish. As a nation we trust leaders who tout a ‘vision’ for something better or a fiction of an idyllic past. For the conservatives the plan is to scare the bejesus out of or into us while making nonsense claims. As for the left, they appear to have given up the ghost.

What should we expect from the Drill Hall production?

Magnificent acting, a stylish production and a brilliant play. Theatre is best when it is a collaboration. If I have any talent it is to bring together a team of very creative people. I have a director friend who said to me that ‘an audience will travel a hundred kilometres to see a moment of truth onstage’. If he is right then I would travel a thousand kilometres or more to see this show.

The Incorruptible opens on Australia Day, 26 January, at the Drill Hall Theatre, Mullumbimby, and runs for seven performances until 5 February. For online bookings and more information go to drillhalltheatre.org.au.

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