More than 10 years since its Melbourne premiere, local theatre company Red Phoenix is staging Hannie Rayson’s highly controversial political play Two Brothers.
Two Brothers is the third play to feature as part of Red Phoenix’s politically focused oeuvre, which commenced in 2016 with Shakespeare’s turbulent Titus Andronicus and continued with their rendition of Don Parties On. Two Brothers fits into this political motif as it focuses on the “lies and pressures brought to bear” by a government minister vying to be prime minister of Australia. A fierce debate by the aforementioned brothers acts as the centerpiece of the play, the debate based on the real-life sinking of the Indonesian fishing boat SIEV X off the coast of Australia in 2001.
Originally staged in 2005 by the Melbourne Theatre Company, the play was met with considerable controversy. The play was seen as an attack on conservative ideals, due to the exploration of ethical issues concerning ‘boat people’ and the Australian laws that prevented navy ships from rescuing drowning refugees in 2001. Andrew Bolt went so far as to label the play “vomit of smug hate.”
Director Robert Kimber acknowledges that Two Brothers will retain much of its intended political vitriol despite its age. “It will annoy some people, there’s no question about that,” he explains. “Particularly people associated with the RSL, the navy. Within it, there is stuff that will upset people, because it sets up a proposition that maybe they don’t want to consider.”
There’s an inherent danger when plays focus on specific events, particularly those of a political nature, as relevancy can be lost in mere years, if not months. While the brothers portrayed in the play are inspired by the Costello brothers, Peter and Tim, who have fallen out of the political spotlight since 2005, Kimber assures the political circumstance depicted are still relevant.
“It’s amazing that this play is so applicable to the political events in the world today, particularly when you look at the rise of Donald Trump, because he’s been associated with an incredible pattern of lies and pressures, lies and counterclaims,” he says. “We’re not doing this play so people will walk out and forget about it, I think the idea is to stimulate discussion and perhaps confront people with these issues, which are so powerful and so relevant today.”
It is also the ageless concept of migration that Two Brothers addresses, despite the debate centering on a specific instance related to Australia. “The pattern of movement around the world at the moment is driven, as it always has been, by migration,” explains Kimber. “The nature of migration is part of an ongoing shift of people, people from around the world, so it’s a natural enough activity. In the process, people get hurt. That’s part of the bigger picture.”
It should not be assumed that Two Brothers hinges on political discussion, however. Rayson puts emphasis on relatable family dynamics that seek to to better illustrate the humanity of the situation. To demonstrate this, the intent of the brothers is not simply to disagree with each other, but to act like siblings. “These brothers get on quite well, and when they’re talking about anything else but politics they have an enormously rich relationship,” states Kimber.
Two Brothers commences on Wednesday, May 17 at Holden Street Theatre, continuing until Saturday, May 27
Photography: Richard Parkhill