Explicit Material

When you go to the theatre on a Friday night, at the end of a busy week, you can sometimes struggle to keep your eyes from closing and your mind wandering. You’re tired, the play isn’t maybe all that interesting, and there’s something about the environment of a theatre which can make you a little sleepy.

I certainly didn’t feel that way when I went to see “Explicit Material” at The Ensemble Theatre in Sydney last night. Au contraire, I was on the edge of my seat, actively involved, and never once found my mind wandering.

The central character for the play is an ageing, and not very successful artist, played beautifully by William Zappa. He’s a Brett Whitely wannabe whose only real claim to fame was a series of works in the 60s called “My Big Cock”. Even then, it was the controversy surrounding the exhibition’s subject matter, more than the quality of the work which gained him some notoriety.

The play explores the ideas surrounding the notions of progressive art (is there anything more that can be done), and in the separation between the artist and their art (Roman Polanski and Donald Friend are two artists cited who made great art, but who also engaged in under-age sex). Can you separate the artist from their art? And do we “forgive” individuals for their crimes because they’re artists? The play really makes you think.

But there’s also wonderful emotion and humour in the play, as the artist traverses and explores the complicated, difficult relationship he has with his daughter and grand-daughter.

I thought it was one of the best plays I’ve seen in the last few years. The script by Geoffrey Atherdon – Mother & Son, Grass Roots – is tight, pacy, and complex. The performances by the actors, especially William Zappa, are amazing.

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