Jonathan Biggins, whose play uses satire and comedy to examine some of the complex issues surrounding our national identity.
Jonathan Biggins, whose play uses satire and comedy to examine some of the complex issues surrounding our national identity.

Local inspiration in Sydney play exploring national identity

CORIOLE is a fictional town partly inspired by our own patch of dirt here on the Northern Rivers.

It's the setting for acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company playwright Jonathan Biggins' latest production, Australia Day. It's a satirical play that examines Australia's struggle to find its own national identity.

"Part of it was inspired by up your way and the changing demographic of a lot of those northern New South Wales towns," Mr Biggins said.

"One of the characters is a Green, a local councillor who's moved up from Melbourne, and she's got political ambitions … and then funnily enough at the last state election you elected a Green."

The play begins with the residents of Coriole gearing up to celebrate Australia Day.

The committee is desperately trying to organise a big party, but it's proving more difficult than first thought.

The characters include Wally, a conservative "typical Australian bloke", who's a builder; Helen, a Greens councillor from Melbourne; Brian, the mayor standing for Liberal National Party pre-selection; Robert, the mayor's loyal deputy; Chester, a school teacher and joker; and Marie, the long-serving head of the local CWA.

Mr Biggins said the six characters had so far resonated with audiences.

"The response to the show in the past has always been, 'We know people just like that'," he said.

"(The play) is about politics and the changing nature of regional Australia and how long Australia can sort of blast the symbol for Australia Day.

"A lot of the Australian character and a lot of the Australian identity actually comes from the bush and from regional Australia and our cities are pretty bland really."

Part of writing the script was thinking seriously about what should be celebrated on Australia Day.

For Mr Biggins, it should be a day that steers clear of Southern Cross tattoos and nationalistic jargon and instead focuses on the service clubs and residents who work quietly and contribute to communities at a grassroots level.

"It's a day where you celebrate the achievements and you question the future," he said.



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