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February 25, 2021

Interview: Lyall Brooks on The Importance of Being Prudent

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Lyall Brooks: A Prudent Man

Lyall Brooks has received three Green Room award nominations for his performances. In A Prudent Man he takes on a challenging role as a political psychopath; it’s a one-man-show that drills down into the very marrow of the man, artistic director of Lab Kelpie, a production company dedicated to performing work by new Australian playwrights. A Prudent Man promises to be something special.

Lyall, what drew you to a career in the performing arts?

As a boy I always wanted to be a performer, but never pursued it formally because I never considered it a viable career choice. (It’s amazing how influential those well-meaning, responsible adults’ voices can be in souring dreams in a kid!) After working in ‘real jobs’ for a couple of years, I threw it all in and plunged into performing. I completed a full-time dance course (I’d never danced before!) and then just went from gig to gig, from dancing to acting to singing to voiceovers to whatever came my way, until I realised that’s actually what a ‘career’ in the performing arts looks like. And I couldn’t be happier. There’s something about being involved in the artistic exploration of what it means to… be human, I guess, and simultaneously sharing that with others, engaging people to do the same. Every single person has a role in the arts, and it’s a special delight when you see people discover that fact for themselves.

Was there a particular event that caused the idea for A Prudent Man to crystallise?

Definitely for the playwright, Katy Warner. It was one particular family dinner back home in Perth, during which opinions and barbs from both ends of the table (and the political spectrum) were thrown, many tears were shed… and politics was forevermore banned from the Warner family dinner table.

Tell me about how the concept evolved?

After that barney, Katy asked herself how two intelligent and otherwise close (in this case related) people can have such strong, seemingly incompatible opinions… and both utterly believe they, and only they, are right. So she set about devouring all the information she could to try to understand – memoirs, speeches, policies, interviews, things she never thought she would read (and never wants to again) – and created a character that held all these things to be true: a character who inadvertently comes face-to-face with the consequences of those beliefs. She wrote the role for me, which felt like such an honour until I realised it’s just because I play a good bastard!

Did you self-censor in the fear of increased attention from ASIO or the FBI?

Hahaha! I hope the character’s identity is ambiguous enough to avoid undue scrutiny!

Is there a moral to the story?

What I (and audiences) love about Katy’s writing is that although she asks herself strong, intriguing questions and leaves no stone unturned in her pursuit, she doesn’t come up with any neat answers. She’s wonderfully, refreshingly undidactic. People more often than not leave the theatre fighting amongst themselves about what they have seen and heard, what it all means, and how their feelings about our country, our elected leaders and, more widely, our place as citizens of the world have been challenged and changed.

How do people relate to your character? What dimensions did you want to show? Is he relatable? Is he a monster?

I absolutely love playing despicable characters; finding their charm, fleshing out their realness, making them sympathetic and recognisable. I want to make this ‘Man’ (he has no name in the play) both such a monster and so relatable that people feel really disconcerted at his almost mundane normality. I want them to feel unnerved – maybe a little frightened of themselves.

What should we expect for your performance in Lismore?

A tight, darkly comedic political thriller that will make you leave the theatre inspired and thinking and talking and maybe even arguing with your friends. I can’t stand theatre where you walk away with eyes half-glazed and saying, ‘That was nice, where should we go for coffee?’ because what’s the point?!

Thursday–Saturday, 3–6 May at The Studio, NORPA at Lismore City Hall | $25/$36 | Bookings norpa.org.au or call 1300 066 772.

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