Two Straw Men

We saw Hannie Rayson’s play Two Brothers last night. Since it’s already made its way through Sydney and Melbourne, and been thoroughly dissected there, this is probably only of relevance to Canberrans. My simple message: outside student theatre and performance poetry, this is the most two-dimensional piece of writing I’ve come across. If Rayson honestly wants to pit opposing opinions about refugee policy against one another, she could start by using the best arguments from both sides (Hint: "ethnics won’t fit in here" was not the most potent argument of the right). By the end of the play, the entrails of straw men lie across the stage, but it’s hard to know whether we’ve learned anything.

To see what can be achieved when your characters articulate the most cogent arguments on the two sides of a complex debate, Rayson should read Ian McEwen’s novel Saturday, in which two protagonists put the strongest arguments for and against intervening in Iraq (it’s set in the pre-intervention period, when the case for war was stronger than now). Not only does McEwen’s approach make better politics, but it makes better art too.

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