Saturday, 2 July 2011

Conspiracy by John Kiely, July 1, 2011

 Conspiracy by John Kiely
La Mama Theatre, until July 17, 2011

The narrative of Conspiracy, John Kiely’s play about former Federal Attorney-General and High Court Judge, the late Lionel Murphy, has dramatic potential but Kiely’s script and Peta Coy’s production do little to fulfil this potential.

Kevin Summers plays a very restrained, even muted Lionel Murphy, perhaps to highlight Murphy’s illness and imminent death. We crave more of Murphy’s boldness and arrogance, his brazen belief that he knew better than the people, the judges and the government.

The final courtroom scene captures some of the drama of the Murphy case and large cast works hard, but the production is ungainly and lacks theatricality.

 Kiely’s script is poorly structured with too many scenes and characters, the dialogue is expositional, most dramatic action is off-stage, the direction is clumsy and the scene changes are slow and often unnecessary.
Murphy’s colourful political, judicial and personal life and his vivid character make him a prime candidate for a bio-drama, but Kiely’s play spends too much time talking about the case and too little highlighting Murphy’s character and depicting events that made him so controversial.

As Attorney General in the Whitlam government, Murphy changed Australia by introducing progressive legislation such as anti-discrimination and divorce.

The play focuses on the later period of 1985-86 when Murphy was accused of attempting to influence a case against a friend when he was a High Court judge. Kiely was a journalist at The Age at that time when the incriminating ‘Age Tapes’ surfaced.

Perhaps trimming the cast and focussing the script on action would lift the excitement and the sense of controversy of the production.

 Stars: ** &1/2

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