Anzac: more on The One Day of the Year

ANZAC for our family means Alan Seymour’s famous play on ANZAC “The One Day of the Year.”
Our mother, theatre director Jean Marshall directed the first performance after the Adelaide Festival Board banned it.
Here are tributes to Alan Seymour who died recently,

1. Alan Seymour unravelled not just Anzac day but Australia’s ‘knotty roots’
by Van Badham
As a battered, school-issue staple of countless high school reading lists, today it’s hard to hold a copy of Alan Seymour’s most famous play, The One Day of the Year, and comprehend it was once the most controversial work of theatre in Australia.

Like Lawler’s play, Seymour’s was a competition winner, with its own prize being selection for performance at the very first Adelaide festival of the arts. The play contains no nudity, no violence, only a few expletives and very veiled references to sex, yet the festival’s board of governors reneged on a commitment to produce the play on the grounds that it might cause offence to Australia’s Returned Services League.

Only 15 years after the end of the second world war, the social heft of the veterans’ organisation was considerable; the RSL assumed a role for the Australian establishment as guardian of the myth of the heroic Australian “digger” – bronzed in masculinity, heroism unquestionable.

Although Australia’s theatre academics have since affirmed the dramatic triumph of Seymour’s play is exploiting a family conflict to expose a humanising vulnerability within the Anzac experience, at the time merely allowing two characters among five to challenge the Anzac myth was too much of an affront to the establishment world view.

The play had its first production as a “try-out” by the amateur Adelaide Theatre Group, but, no doubt due to its infamy, soon attracted a popular audience and became a success. Productions in Melbourne and Sydney followed, as did tours, as did a controversial reputation. On opening night in Sydney amid the very Anzac Day celebrations of which Hughie is so critical, police had to investigate a bomb threat at the theatre before the show could go on.

However, it’s not the exploration of Anzacery that has ensured the play’s popularity and productions of The One Day of the Year across the world, in translation, with the cultural imprimatur of a Penguin edition and numerous revivals.

Critic and academic Katherine Brisbane identifies its appeal even at the time of the first production as a “movement away from British gentility towards examination of the knotty working-class roots of Australian life”.

read the whole article here

Photo from Waging Peace on War: Canberra. WACA Peace Convergence copy
2. One Day of the Year that changed writer Alan Seymour’s life by Marc McEvoy
ALAN SEYMOUR 1927-2015

Seeing drunken former soldiers brawling and vomiting outside pubs in Summer Hill on Anzac Day was a pivotal moment in Alan Seymour’s life. It was 1955 and the writer was on his way home to the Sydney suburb after watching the annual city march.

What struck him was not the alcohol abuse, because Seymour was no wowser, but the hollowness of the Anzac Day celebrations. It gave him the idea for The One Day of the Year, a play that would ultimately define his career as an author and playwright.

Written in 1958, when Seymour was 31, for an amateur playwriting competition, the play was also inspired by an article in the University of Sydney newspaper Honi Soit denouncing Anzac Day. On its release, The One Day of the Year created a public furore. It dramatised social inequality and anxieties about masculinity and national identity. Importantly, it challenged accepted notions about Australia’s most venerated commemoration.

In the play, Hughie, an idealistic student, sees Anzac Day as an excuse for drunken debauchery, which puts him in conflict with his xenophobic working-class father, Alf Cook. “I’m a bloody Australian, mate, and it’s because I’m a bloody Australian that I’m gettin’ on the grog,” cries Alf, a beer-swilling returned serviceman. “It’s Anzac Day this week, that’s my day, that’s the old Diggers’ day.”

The play was first performed on July 20, 1960, as an amateur production by the Adelaide Theatre Guild after being rejected, due to its supposed anti-military stance, by the Adelaide Festival of Arts.

Then, on Anzac Day 1961, during the dress rehearsal for its opening at Sydney’s Palace Theatre, in which a young Ron Haddrick played Alf, there was a bomb scare, forcing police to close the theatre for 24 hours. Seymour, who was gay and had also received death threats, was labelled a communist sympathiser and “un-Australian”.

A committed writer, he decided to join an exodus of Australian creative talent leaving for London in 1961. His gamble paid off. Within a few months, The One Day of the Year opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, in London.

Read more here


Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

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early post on Anzac
McQueen on Anzac
Waging Peace on War: Canberra. WACA Peace Convergence
Peace Convergence 2014


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