Watch out, Sydney! 1970s prejudice is about to hit the TAP Gallery as Alison Lyssa’s Pinball takes to the stage as part of this year’s Mardi Gras festival.
Pinball tells the story of Theenie, a single mother fighting to retain custody of her child. This is made all the more difficult because she’s a lesbian who is being pressured to conform to a heteronormative lifestyle by her family.
Lyssa was inspired to write the play during a women’s rights rally in 1980. A friend was selling raffle tickets to raise funds for a court case where her partner was fighting for the custody of her children. Being a penniless playwright, Lyssa offered to bring their story to the stage instead. The play incorporates transcripts from the real court case, some of which is so offensive that you may doubt its legitimacy. Unfortunately, it’s all true.
A great deal has changed since its initial 1981 production, and director Sarah Vickery felt that she had to tweak the play in order for it to resonate with a modern audience. She describes her job as being difficult, especially as someone who wasn’t around to experience 1970s feminism.
“I had to take a lot of stuff out, because unfortunately for a lot of the younger audience it will go right over their heads. The references would mean nothing…I had to decide what parts of the play and what messages in the play I wanted to highlight the most, because there were so many. I wanted to stay true to the play in terms of it reflecting feminism and women’s rights…It was such a big deal back then, but not so much now. I want to show that contrast between then and now.”
In this way, Pinball still contains messages that are relevant to a modern audience. Despite women’s rights progressing significantly since the 70s, the gay community is still fighting for marriage and children. This is where Pinball is most likely to resonate with a modern audience. Regardless of how much we have changed, and the fact that we’re far better off than some other countries, we still have a great deal of ground to cover.
One theme that’s particularly close to Vickery is children’s rights, and she describes the children in the play being invisible. Two women are fighting for custody, and yet the child doesn’t have an opportunity to express their own thoughts or feelings. Vickery states that this problem was reflective of 1970s culture and that in 2014 “…adults are more respectful of children’s opinions.” Vickery emphasises the importance of children having a voice throughout the play, particularly through the use of footage from the documentary Gayby Baby. This was a crowd-sourced project by Charlotte McLellan and Maya Newell that centred on children who were growing up in same sex households. Vickery felt that the clips were relevant to the play, particularly in regards to the centric theme of children being unphased by homosexual relationships but also to how the treatment of children has changed.
Despite being quite heavy thematically, Pinball contains some incredibly comedic moments, many of which Vickery attributes to nostalgia over the backwards society portrayed. She predicts that we are well on the road to a society in which we can laugh at the absurdity of the same sex marriage argument, in the same way we find the idea of segregation ridiculous now.
She’s right, of course, and theatre like this will help us get there.
Pinball is on from Tuesday February 11 until Friday February 28 at TAP Gallery, Darlinghurst.