The play premiered at the Sydney Opera House, was a big success and has rarely been out of production somewhere in Australia for decades. It was great fun to write and be involved in, particularly the moment when the cast, whom I'd instructed must, as well as riding a motorbike and side car around the stage and dance the tango with life size male mannikins, must learn to tap dance down a 15 foot high pyramid of biscuit tins, got their revenge by making the director, the magnificent Shakespearean director John Bell and myself learn a tapdance routine which we performed at the opera house (luckily for only a small invited audience). So there you go. How many playwrights have tapdanced on stage at the Sydney Opera house? Anyway, this play now routinely turns up in exams. So, for all of the students who have to study it, here are my thoughts. (PS Sneak preview. I am writing the film script at the moment).
The play script is available in print Dinkum Assorted (Currency Press) A new edition is currently being printed. Here are some questions put to me and my answers...
What influenced you to write the play - see Writers’ Notes in the published script of Dinkum Assorted
2. Was it for entertainment/ or a specific message see Writers’ Notes in published script of Dinkum Assorted . My answer is that it contains both.
BTW this is an interesting question because you pose it as an either/or. I query that. Does ‘entertainment’ always preclude a message? What about comedy satire, the nature of which is to transmit a message? Or black comedy? I’m not on the attack here, or suggesting that Dinkum is a satire, it isn’t. I’m simply saying that the message and entertainment can and do sit together and, to my mind, it’s a false distinction. Theatre IS entertainment, whether the content is dark or light, and often it’s both, which is why Checkhov called his plays ‘comedies’ . It is - and always has been - about, as we say in the trade, ‘backsides on seats’. Do you know why Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice? Because Christopher Marlowe, his great rival, and the company Marlowe wrote for, were having a box office hit literally in the theatre around the corner with a play entitled The Jew of Malta’. Shakespeare deliberately wrote a play about a Jewish man to steal the trade from his rival. Regarding comedy, speaking as a writer who can write comedy and darker material (and comedy is the harder of the two - a lot harder than it looks – dark material is a lot easier), I often use comedy to transmit a message . You can see that in my Young Adult fiction. My novels Kelp, Rude Health, Plain Rude and Naturally Rude are a comic treatment of many of the painful bits of adolescence, transmitting a message which would be resented and feel trite if delivered overtly. I also use comedy to manipulate the audience in a very special way (and we writers are, of course, always very consciously manipulating the audience as are actors). Comedy is a very fast way to win over an audience. It can do it in seconds. Hence, I sometimes use it very consciously to grab and win over an audience so that I can turn the tables quickly – and spring a serious scene with greater impact. Similarly, another thing I can and have done often with comedy, with great success, to transmit a message, is to make an audience love a character via comedy (because audiences love characters who make them laugh)– then suddenly make that endearingly funny character reveal a nasty or evil side - which brings the audience up short. It makes an audience see how easily it can be conned. It shocks and provokes thought. I don’t do that in Dinkum (although I do consciously juxtapose comedy with tragic material, because that was part of the play) but I have done in other plays and in TV and film work. These are tricks of the trade.
3. Any specific themes you wished to display A whole heap. See Writers’ Notes.
4. How do you interpret the character of Millie (Example: personality, attitude and voice )
This isn’t one for me to answer. I believe that once a play leaves the writer it belongs to the actors, the director and the audience - as long as they don’t abuse the play by a gross and deliberate misinterpretation (for example, make Millie a drug addict or something equally at odds with the spirit of the play). The play speaks for itself. My beliefs about Millie are in the text. Look at the information given by the play about Millie. Decide on her social class and the social behaviours expected of that class of woman in that era and whether she is or isn’t conforming and in what way. Look at what I’ve given you. Her husband is missing, possibly dead. Her inlaws don’t like her. She is desperately homesick and isolated. She has trouble behaving a normal mother. She is engaging in very dangerous sexual behaviour. She is looking for a kind of freedom. She copies Joan. Look at the symbolism of that long speech. A person standing on a jetty as the tide inexorably comes in, covering their feet, their ankles, rising higher and higher…? What does all of this tell you? What do you personally make of it? Does Millie know what she’s doing or is she in a frame of mind so disconnected as to make her unaware of the ramifications? Is this conscious suicidal behaviour? What is it? I have seen many actors’ interpretations of Millie, and it is my job as a writer to do my best to create rich characters capable of different interpretations. Find yours. Explore. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to take the pauses. Find the subtext, explore the unspoken thought progression. In short, Millie is all yours. Find a Millie that is, genuinely, yours.
I hope this helps. Good luck to you all for now and the future.