Arts / Power through the prism of sexuality

Arts editor HELEN MUSA previews a new Canberra satirical comedy that looks at how things might unfold if we had a gay prime minister.  

Ethan Gibson as Craig, left, and Craig Alexander as Jasper in “Exclusion”.

A new Canberra satirical comedy looks at how things might unfold if we had a gay prime minister.  

Many speculate that we’ve had several gay PMs in the past, but no-one’s been prepared to name them.

David Atfield’s witty new play “Exclusion”, based on the idea expressed in law that marriage is the union of two people “to the exclusion of all others”, questions the double standards applied to what goes on behind closed doors in the offices and bedrooms of senior political dealmakers.

It’s entirely fictional, of course, as “CityNews” finds when we catch up with the playwright at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

Here’s the setup: Federal minister Jasper (Craig Alexander) is married to the glamorous, sexy, forthright Jacinta (Fiona Hopkins), a former political candidate but now the mother of his five children; but he’s been hopping into bed on a regular basis with his gorgeous personal assistant, Craig (Ethan Gibson).

Meantime, his fellow politician and the man most likely to succeed to the prime ministership, Michael, (Michael Sparks) is having problems in the bedroom with his Pentecostal, upwardly mobile wife Caroline (Tracy Bourne).

Ethan Gibson, left, Fiona Victoria Hopkins and Craig Alexander in “Exclusion”.

Jasper, who fancies the top job for himself, needs to get inside info on Michael’s manoeuvrings and the canny Jacinta suggests planting Craig in Michael’s office. The plot thickens and, suffice to say, that this play is quite unsuitable for the kids, but has serious fun with the Machiavellian manipulations of politicians and the dangers of mixing politics with sex.

In a series of encounters, Atfield explores power seen through the prism of sexuality.

“I think one aspect of humanity is your sexuality,” he says. To him, the continuing social exclusion of LGBTQI+ people from all the current chat about politicians’ private lives reveals widespread prejudices.

Playwright David Atfield. Photo by Shelly Higgs

“We often hear about the mistresses of politicians, but what about ‘the other man?’” he asks.

“I think there is an element of exclusion in our political process, there are no transgender politicians as far as we know and there’s a conspiracy of silence.”

As we follow the two politicians, Michael and Jasper, deeply inbred attitudes emerge.

Jasper is absolutely sure he’s not gay, despite that he enjoys frequent sex with his staffer. Michael’s wife is full of righteous outrage against LGBTQI+ people and Safe Schools policies.

Homophobia is rife, Atfield says, and even with recent legislation, there is a sense that marriage between people of the same sex is not “real” marriage. Gay-aversion therapy is still widespread in Australia, although international human rights organisations have classed it as torture.

Atfield’s script, if the rehearsal we saw was anything to go by, is tight and witty, written in the tradition of realism with all the characters multi-dimensional. It feels as if the time is ripe for such a play in Canberra.

“Exclusion”, The Street Theatre, November 10-17, part of the SpringOut Festival. Book at thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223. Contains nudity, sexual and adult themes, coarse language and drug use. Recommended for ages 16+.

 

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