Daily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Alastair Blanshard, Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History Deputy Head of School, The University of Queensland

Review: Hydra, Queensland Theatre and State Theatre Company of South Australia

Running through Hydra, the new play by Australian playwright Sue Smith, is the myth of Icarus, the boy who flew so high that his wings melted and he crashed to his death in the sea near the Greek island of Samos.

It is an easy myth to misunderstand. Moralists think it is a story that reinforces the importance of listening to your parents and sticking to the safe middle path – not flying “too close to the sun”. In contrast, artists have always recognised that the appeal of the myth lies in its promise of the freedom to soar with the birds.

The conclusion may be disastrous, but the joy is in that fabulous voyage that precedes it. Any price is worth paying to touch the sky. We don’t need to lament Icarus. The tragic figure is his father Daedalus, too scared to follow his son in his magnificent, glorious, fatal flight.

Hydra tells the story of the Australian husband-and-wife writers George Johnston (Bryan Probets) and Charmian Clift (Anna McGahan), two Icarus-like characters, and the ten years they spent in Greece, primarily on the island of Hydra. Beginning in the mid-1950s, it was a wild time of booze, song, and love-making. Hydra became a hangout for artists, writers, and musicians. A refuge for misfits hiding from the world.

Sue Smith's Hydra: how love, pain and sacrifice produced an Australian classic Anna McGahan as Charmian Clift and Bryan Probets as George Johnston in Hydra. Jeff Busby

Sidney Nolan and his wife stayed over a summer. Leonard Cohen sang and played guitar. The actor Peter Finch came to recharge his batteries. Representing this pack of dissolute expatriates in the play is the comical figure Jean-Claude (Ray Chong Nee), a louche painter with a winning smile and professionally French in his equal commitments to infidelity and existentialist philosophy.

Read more: Friday essay: a fresh perspective on Leonard Cohen and the island that inspired him

Sue Smith's Hydra: how love, pain and sacrifice produced an Australian classic Ray Chong Nee plays Jean-Claude, a disreputable yet charming painter. Jeff Busby

Out of this raucous environment would come one of the great works of Australian literature, My Brother Jack, written by Johnston, but importantly nursed into existence by Clift in the final years of their life on the island.

The story of their tumultuous relationship is told in the play from the perspective of their son, the poet and novelist Martin Johnston, played with a vulnerable, naïve charm by Nathan O’Keefe.

It takes a degree of monstrous narcissism to think that you could write the “great Australian novel” and the play doesn’t spare its audience any of this unpleasant side of the creative process. In an excruciatingly awkward scene, we watch Johnston and Clift at work, bashing out words with duelling his-and-hers typewriters positioned at either end of a table.

Petulant, hungry for attention and eager for praise, Johnston is childish in his behaviour. Keen to display his virtuosity and indifferent to Clift’s feelings, he rewrites her work to give it more “energy” and can’t understand why she doesn’t respond to his interventions with gratitude and enthusiasm.

The play strongly suggests that My Brother Jack was written at the expense of Clift’s own literary endeavours. In a heart-rendering moment, Clift puts the cover on her typewriter, never again to be removed, so that she can devote herself to editing Johnston’s manuscript.

We possess Clift’s accounts of her time in Greece in the form of the autobiographies Mermaid Singing and Peel Me a Lotus, but she clearly had a lot more to say had her energy not been so used up in nursing her husband. Anna McGahan’s portrayal brings out both the brittle fragility of Clift and her underlying strength. She sacrifices a lot, but never loses the driving will to write herself into lasting memory, to make herself be seen.

Sue Smith's Hydra: how love, pain and sacrifice produced an Australian classic Hydra explores the sacrifices Charmian Clift (Anna McGahan) made while living on the island. Jeff Busby

Acting as a foil to Johnston and Clift are the couple Vic (Hugh Parker) and Ursula (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight), thinly disguised versions of Sidney Nolan and his wife Cynthia Reed. Ursula is a wonderful bit of writing. Deliciously dislikable, she cuts through her scenes like a scythe. At one point, she compares herself to Daedalus and Vic to Icarus.

However, compared to the fiery theatrics of the Johnston-Clifts, both of them look plodding. Vic’s worldly ambitions ultimately hold him back. You can’t reach the heavens and also make it home in time to be guest of honour at posh dinner parties.

There is a great irony that one of the masterpieces of Australian literature should have been written in Hydra. Greece is not a place conducive to new, thoroughly original, distinctive stories. It always threatens to swamp you with its own stories, crushing you with the weight of its mythology. Nolan tried to paint Gallipoli, but could never escape the pull of Troy.

The exact process of how My Brother Jack came into being remains a mystery. The triggers that caused Johnston to turn inwards, away from his island idyll, back to his own life and far-away homeland continue to be elusive.

No one knows where great art comes from. Hydra instead explores the costs associated with the creation of art and the demands placed on anyone who would seek to fly free. It is tragic, comic, heroic, and in that sense thoroughly Greek.

Hydra is playing at Queensland Theatre until April 6.

Authors: Alastair Blanshard, Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History Deputy Head of School, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/sue-smiths-hydra-how-love-pain-and-sacrifice-produced-an-australian-classic-113640


The Conversation

Politics

Prime Minister on the Alan Jones Show

ALAN JONES: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan, how are you? Good to hear you back on the air.   JONES: Thank you. Thank you very much. Can I just - there's a lot...

Alan Jones - avatar Alan Jones

The Greens side with activists, not farmers

The Greens’ Agriculture Spokesperson, Senator Janet Rice, today made some disgraceful comments in relation to the Government’s tough new penalties for keyboard warriors who incite activists to inv...

Senator Bridget McKenzie - avatar Senator Bridget McKenzie

Scott Morrison interview with Alan Jones - 2GB

ALAN JONES: The Prime Minister's on the line from Melbourne, Prime Minister good morning. PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan ALAN JONES:  thank you for your time. I wish we had three hours but look...

Alan Jones - avatar Alan Jones

Business News

Tips To Ensure The Best B2B Ecommerce Customer Experience

The B2B ecommerce space offers an incredible array of opportunities. It is has registered growth at more than double the size of B2C ecommerce. These tips will help you greatly in improving your cu...

News Company - avatar News Company

Multi-channel Ecommerce And Its Unparalleled Benefits

With severe competition within the ecommerce industry nowadays, exercising measures for expansion has become crucial. When you’re planning to dive into areas of growing your business into a full-fle...

News Company - avatar News Company

Top 5 Reasons Businesses Are Shifting From Magento To Shopify

Although building an online business has been made simpler by the extensive use of the internet, maintaining its success is a journey rather than a destination. It involves critical decisions made a...

News Company - avatar News Company

Travel

DEAL: Kids stay and eat for FREE these school holidays!

Take these school holidays to the next level with the ultimate family escape at PARKROYAL Darling Harbour. What’s more, kids under 12 years of age, can stay and eat for FREE! ...

Liana Gardy - avatar Liana Gardy

How to Book a Hotel for Your Vietnam Trip

Finding a travel destination may turn out to be challenging at times. You may have a long bucket list, which leaves you spoilt for choice on where to visit first. Going through travel blogs and site...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Allianz data reveals the ‘forgotten’ European countries attracting Australian travellers this winter

FROM SPAIN TO THE UKRAINE - THE SURPRISE EUROPEAN DESTINATIONS BOOMING WITH AUSSIE TOURISTS Australian travellers are seeking new destinations beyond the Mediterranean when it comes to European...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

ShowPo