Interview- Michael Gurr, August 2004
Michael Gurr is in the business of writing powerfully passionate and polemical theatre. His journey as a dramatist is still unfolding. It has served him well during the last 20 years as international audiences have continued to lap up and laud Gurr’s brand of irreverent, complex and delightfully entertaining plays. On the eve of the opening of his new play Julia 3; Gurr is quietly confident that this very contemporary dark and brooding epistle will strike a chord with audiences who like Gurr love a challenge.
Gurr cut his razor sharp teeth at Playbox the spiritual home of edgy cerebral and difficult theatre. Playbox has nurtured Gurr and the careers of some of Australia’s finest playwrights including Hannie Rayson, Michael Gow, Frank Hardy, Stephen Sewell, Tobsha Learner and Louis Nowra. His prolific, ever poetic and difficult plays including Sex Diary of an Infidel, Jerusalem, and The Simple Truth cemented Gurr’s reputation as a writer wunderkind.
“I don’t write plays with an audience or audience empathy in mind, I think that is a trap writers fall into, I’m more interested in writing about distinctive characters with interesting lives”, he says stridently. Gurr loves to underscore his plays with contemporary social issues that sound heavy, ashen or tirelessly bleak on paper but are phoenix like and electric on stage. He is courted by theatre buffs for his complex characters and equally complex language use that illuminate his plays, the plight of human frailty and help us navigate the good fight.
“Julia arrived one day as an image that just wouldn’t go away”, he says of his new plays central protagonist, “She is very wealthy and very privileged, she has just buried her husband, has three lovers and she has a ridiculous amount of time on her hands”, says Gurr.
“ My characters arrive like strangers, I never consciously base them on people I know and they seem to sit in my compost heap while I daydream for a long time”, says the writer sheepishly revealing his craft. He explains, “ The compost heap is quite simply everything you've ever done, everyone you've ever met, everything you've ever heard. It all sits in there and churns around and comes out in a new form”. Gurr laughs ironically, “ I don’t know anyone remotely like Julia”.
“Julia presides over her late husband’s charity and with the help of her three handsome male lovers who become her principle beneficiaries”, says Gurr churlishly, “ the handsome young writer Charlie (Todd McDonald), the art forgery detective Leon (Peter Curtin), the scientist, Joe (Greg Stone) Julia decides to play god”, explains Gurr.
Julia is a powerful woman who presciently shatters the irksome archetype of the upwardly mobile doyen of the A list dinner party set and Jo Bailey coiffured socialite to reveals a multilayered tour de force and aspirant humanitarian.
“Julia will surprise everyone with the quirky choices she makes, her money and her rarified privilege”, says Gurr mawkishly, “ You see, I don’t want to reveal the twist of the play. “ But what I will say is that she sits there with this soft avalanche of disaster that falls onto her table each day, all the horror headlines about atrocities in Africa, Iraqi prisons and so forth and she decides to do something about it. It is something very, very, very radical”.
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