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Stephen Sewell

Stephen Sewell - Award-Winning Australian Playwright

Philip Fisher meets Stephen Sewell, writer of Myth, Propaganda & Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America.

Stephen Sewell is one of Australia's leading playwrights. This position has been hard-earned by a man who was certainly determined to become a writer. Though he doesn't look old enough, he has now been writing full time for 30 years but as he puts it, "I spent the first ten of them writing without earning a cent".

He is now very much more successful, having written a stream of award-winning plays and various film scripts including one for the internationally renowned The Boys.

Sewell, who is based in Bondi close to one of the most famous beaches in the world, has recently been in Dublin and then in London to promote a play that could be regarded as the most successful in Australian history. This is on the basis that it has now won more awards than any other Australian play. It also has one of the longest titles - Myth, Propaganda & Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America is the condensed version.

Sewell describes the play as "a kind of Brilliant Minds in reverse". It follows an Australian protagonist through a New York hell, mirroring that of Josef K in The Trial by Franz Kafka. Along the way, it addresses a number of contemporary political issues that clearly mean a great deal to the playwright.

The bearded Australian is generally cheerful but get him onto one of his favourite subjects, politics, and he becomes vehement.

"I don't mind being called a political writer. I'm interested in both politics and power. Power is a central aspect of human experience and it's crucial that writers write about it". He ensures that the point is rammed home when he states that the Ancient Greek word for a playwright who writes ignoring politics is linked to "idiot"!

He has very firm views on Australian politics, and is deeply concerned for the future of his country. He points out that it is currently suffering from a four year-long drought and there are prognostications that it may be uninhabitable within 20 to 30 years. He describes it as "close to the front of global change but with a government that is in denial".

Sewell doesn't mince his words when he calls that government "laughable and contemptible" following John Howard's support of the United States in Iraq. He is greatly concerned by what he sees as "a violent world with attacks on the notions and rights and liberties of individuals."

Over his long writing career, Sewell has written a stream of plays as well as film screenplays the most famous of which is The Boys, directed by Rowan Woods and starring Toni Collette and David Wenham.

Myth is his second play to be performed in England this year. It followed a play with what with another playwright would be thought of as a long title, The Secret Death of Salvador Dali.

He already has two more plays in the pipeline. The first is another on an artistic theme: Three Furies based on the life and work of Francis Bacon, will open at the Sydney Festival in the New Year. The other, intriguingly called It Just Stopped, he describes as "a comedy at the end of the world". He has high hopes that both will transfer to Britain next year.

Stephen Sewell has a very singular view about the purpose of drama. "I don't regard the writing that I do as literature. The plays are to be performed and I write for the voice and the stage, not to be read". He continues by setting out his ethos saying that "a play should be an experience of the human heart. Audiences want to know what their hearts conceal from themselves. I participate with the audience in discovering those things".

If anyone wants to discover what is in their own heart, they could do worse than head down to Richmond and catch Myth at the Orange Tree.

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©Peter Lathan 2004