Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-4-1349 7828

February 2007 # 4

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Back to Editorials 2007

You Lose Power

Things must be getting rough on the bridge. Johnny’s come out swinging and young Kev is mustering his mates. What was that old song? Ah, that’s right, “the times they are a changin’”. But how much they will actually change is yet to be determined and, like that other well known little ditty, who will be “rearranging the deck chairs” on good ol’ SS Australia? 

There seems to be a lot of store being put into Kev and Julia’s new stage play. Starring a stellar cast (so we are told), the pantomime is about two new comers who, young, reckless and with really nothing to loose, they set out on a journey with gay abandon (can I still say that?). Casting aside the script conventions of the Beasley and Latham school, they strike out, full of pluck and vigour. 

Like a pair of possessed missionaries, they wandered hither and thither about the land, spreading the gospel of Labor. They journey into the lions den and give speeches to rightwing think tanks. They spread out their meagre rations and sup with the business leaders. Why, they even feel it necessary to take up their shields and swords (metaphorically speaking) and go toe to toe with the shock jocks. Their’s was a restless summer of Labor. 

The main plot twist is that these two new comers take their opportunity while the old guard take their rest. To unknown destinations the old guard took flight, leaving behind their worries and cares. After all, who could blame them. After ten years of raping and pillaging, they feel safe in their concrete bunkers and well guarded lairs. To rest and reflect on the bounty they had accumulated was their intent. 

The fattened and contented looks on their faces, shown in close-up, slo-mo detail, as they left the halls of power in the final program of the last season, was meant to bode well for the inhabitants of this imaginary land. After all, if the lords in their manner are well fed, surely the citizens should be grateful for the crumbs that fall from their plates. 

It seems, as this new season starts, that the slovenliness of the old guard may have begun to unravel their contented repose. The spoils of power may have weakened their primary senses, their ability to spin their way out of their mistruths and non-core commitments. It seems that while the beast slept, the golden haired wonder boy and his flame locked companion may have got the drop on them. 

As this fairy tale unfolds, carefully choreographed to conceal the script re-writes and shonky supporting cast, we look on from the decks of the good ship SS Australia. This pantomime is something we find, at various times, amusing, sickening, engaging, boorish, faddish and more often than not, completely lacking in depth, sincerity and artistic integrity. 

The actors in this pantomime seem to have forgotten that they, like us, are fare paying passengers on the journey to the end. The good ship sails on, never stopping to return to previous ports, never deviating from its course to goodness knows where. Kev, Jules, John and the rest of the cast (pity Amanda got dropped from the new series) tell us that, because they act from a stage closer to the bridge, we should feel secure they have the captain’s ear. But I worry. 

I seem to recall the HMS England sometime back in the 1990’s. She too was sailing through choppy waters. The passengers became so upset that the pantomime wasn’t keeping their minds off the seasickness they felt, that they threw the cast and principle actors overboard. They then hired in a new cast and after the first season felt they had really hit on a BAFTA winning combination. But it was not to be. By the third episode of the second season they realised that the plot had jumped the shark and it was going to be all down hill from here on in, one boring night after the other. 

Here, on the good ship SS Australia, some of our cast had been attending lessons with the English actors. They had been swapping scripts and supporting cast. They discovered that by combining their talents they were more likely to win back their key audiences even if they did loose a few ratings points. 

Meanwhile, the good folks on HMS England and SS Australia were starting to feel the effects of the chop. While on the surface the scripts the actors delivered sounded OK, the plot devices based on them were very poor. The delivery of many of the lines was faultless but somehow, the audiences knew, deep in their hearts, there was no sincerity in the delivery. 

The previous pantomime on HMS England had gone on so long the weary travellers were just glad a new show was on board. It would seem that on the good ship SS Australia, the passengers are starting to look for a new show and have grown weary of the same old lines, set pieces and insincere delivery. 

Over the summer ratings break it seems Kev and Julia might have got the jump on Howard’s tired run. While the old cast were slumbering on some beach somewhere, Kev and Julia were holding pre-season previews, honing their act and smoothing out some of the script inconsistencies. But I wonder. 

I wonder if the lights on the stage, after the Howard renovations, have become just a little too bright and hinder the ability of the actors to connect with their audience. I wonder, if like the mutiny on the HMS England, that saw the whole cast and crew turfed over the gunnels, we too are being set up for another dud run. 

Sure, the costumes are new, the set has had a lick of paint and the script is easy to follow. But it makes me wonder if those on centre stage are too caught up with protecting their careers and good names to be even bothered with long term engagement with their audiences? Are we, here on the good ship SS Australia, going to put up with another half hearted botch job of a stage show or are we going to clear the decks and find a new way to ensure the journey to our destination is, at least occasionally, enjoyable. 

So, while the good folks at the production houses fine tune their second acts and give the new cast members a feature spot every now and again, is it time we started lining up the deck chairs, for a quick exit to a much more inclusive sideshow, or are we content to allow the stage managers to just rearrange them once more?

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