A Man With Five Children calls for nine performers plus a film component and who better to wrangle a large ensemble and complex play than Director Anthony Skuse. See Anthony’s directors notes below.
My initial response to the play was that there was something unspoken within the shadow of the narrative. In my head I called it the play’s sub-play. It felt personal. Personal in terms of concerns rather than narrative details. I think it’s there in the anxiety at the core of all the relationships. It’s there in the examination of the artist’s relationship to his/her subject. In the tension between yearning for connection and the avoidance of responsibilities connection entails. In the struggle all five characters make to reclaim their own narrative and their desire to move beyond the descriptors set-up by Gerry’s documentary. It’s there in their struggle for autonomy.
The play’s concern with identity and representation on a personal and national level reflects the historical context of the narrative. The play begins in 1972, the year the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up in Canberra and Gough Whitlam led the Labour Party to power. Under Whitlam the final vestiges of The White Australia Policy were discarded and multicultural policies were introduced. Under Malcom Fraser’s government (1975 – 83) the first wave of boats carrying people seeking asylum from the aftermath of the Vietnam War arrived on our shores. The national response to the crisis was very different to todays. There was leadership and a sense we had a moral duty to these people. Multiculturalism expanded the notion of what it was to be Australian. There was an accompanying anxiety from some quarters about the erosion of certain principles that favoured an Eurocentric past. Under Whitlam, Fraser and Keating there were significant developments in regard to Indigenous Rights. Keating’s Redfern Park Speech in 1992 was something of a watershed in terms of an acknowledgement of our shared history – ‘We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice.’ Since John Howard (1996 – 2007) the national gaze turned inward. Multiculturalism was discredited and the History Wars dominated the national conversation. It is against this background of the expansion and contraction of ideals round national identity and representation that Enright’s five children struggle to create their own counter-narratives to Gerry’s manipulated one. A Man with Five Children is by no means a straight ward or unproblematic text. Its provocations around identity, representation and authenticity, as well as its interrogation of the role of media in our lives and its ability to reflect a lived truth, remain as unresolved and pressing.
Posted 22 May 2016