The Boat People finds comedy in an unlikely place. Is it time we found a sense of fun in such an important political issue?
I wouldn’t say that, but I have felt for a long time that something’s got to give. In using this subject matter to create a comedy, what I’m really doing is asking a different question about this national wound that we still haven’t salved. I’m using humour because I think it’s a subtle and effective way to be provocative, rather than hitting people over the head and telling them what to think. I’m hoping the laughter begets reflection and encourages people to see this issue in a new light.
The tagline teases: “Yesterday, she was a boat person. Today, she is our brightest and most controversial success story.” Can you give us a hint as to what the play is about?
A woman who came to Australia and lived in mandatory detention as a teenager has built a successful restaurant chain that cashes in on ‘boat people’ clichés and iconography. Along with her husband, she has climbed the ranks of society and eventually makes a run for federal politics.
You created The Boat People with some of Sydney’s most talented comedians. Can you tell us about working with them as writers and actors?
I had wanted to make a play with comedians for a long time, particularly Susie Youssef and William Erimya. Susie is one of the most charming, honest and subtle improvisers I have ever seen, and Will’s stage persona is hilarious in an utterly original way. Obviously there are plenty of laughs in rehearsals, and all the cast’s contributions to the script make it a much funnier show than I could have written, but I think comedians have a sensitivity to communication and timing that is really valuable in a dramatic context too.
It’s also The Hayloft Project’s first Sydney production since relocating. You seem surrounded by talented people?
I feel incredibly lucky. The past successes of the company mean that I can work with industry-leading creatives and crew, a company as amazing as Rock Surfers is willing to co-produce the show, and we might even get an audience too.