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ARTS - Lights, Drinks, Action - Brendan Cowell Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 28 April 2008
Brendan Cowell is a strong presence in theatre and television in Australia, working on and off the stage, or the screen, all the time. His most recently penned play goes deep into the self-destructive Australian culture of binge-drinking. It’s the work of a guy who’s been to a few opening night parties. Cowell talked to Darryn King about the new Belvoir production of Ruben Guthrie.

What’s your own history with drinking-

Well, yeah, I’m definitely partial to the pubs. I think there’s a good reason why people do it… and that’s ’cause it’s awesome. It’s good to get loose and throw off the shackles and seriousness of the world – just throw it all off and see what happens. And I’ve been partial to that, in my early- to mid-20s. Even my late 20s. Actually my early 30s as well. It’s kind of easy to do and not realise that it’s getting bad…

I guess we should step back a bit now – can you tell us a little bit about the plot-
Ah, what is the plot, that’s a very good point. Ruben Guthrie is the creative director of a cutting-edge advertising agency. He’s a bit of a master, gifted at instant results and tapping into the pulse of this generation… and he’s kinda invincible. He does some bad stuff with girls, he jumps off buildings, he takes drugs… but he’s never had to hold back, because everything’s just worked.
But at an awards night, he takes a bit of whiz and drinks a bottle of Absolut Mandarin, and he decides to take flight off the roof of the hotel into the pool below in front of the afterparty.

It’s been said that you “want to take theatre to the masses”… is Ruben Guthrie part of that ambition-
Yeah, that was very much my mantra when I set up Wharf2Loud a couple of years ago. We want Jill from Surry Hills and Tyrone from Woollahra, but also Brett from Penrith to come in, and not feel like he should have had an Arts degree. We like to think it’s accessible. So many people say “I can’t come, it’s too expensive”, “I can’t come, it’s too strange”, “I don’t know enough about theatre…” and that just gets me to the core of my very being. Everyone’s welcome in my theatre. I want everyone to not just feel welcome but to feel involved, touched and threatened by what we make.

I think Ruben Guthrie does that. Some of my other plays didn’t appeal to the masses as much because people knew they were going to get barked at by this work. A lot of Australian audiences don’t want to be told anything…

They’d rather see a cop chasing robots than dealing with an earache, for example-
Yeah, maybe, yeah, something like that. They want to see movies where they see people they recognise: The Castle might have their uncle in it, or their friends might be in Kath and Kim… They don’t want to feel like they’re going to be chastised. That’s a sweeping generalisation but that’s my opinion…

I hope [Ruben Guthrie] can have broad appeal and be as big as possible.

WHAT: Ruban Guthrie
WHERE: Belvoir St Theatre
WHEN: Friday 18 April – Sunday 11 May