Brisbane Festival Interview: Lyall Brooks talks Australian Politics and A Prudent Man

Inspired by recent Australian political events, A Prudent Man takes an unapologetic look at memory, ego and power! Written and directed by award-winning playwright Katy Warner and performed by Lyall Brooks, this one-man monologue promises to take a dark comedic tour towards what it means to be right.

Playing at the 2017 Brisbane Festival this September, we caught up with star of the show Lyall Brooks to talk politics, the shows impact and what he’d say to Malcom Turnbull at a family Christmas BBQ.

What made you feel the need to tell this story?

Playwright Katy Warner said she wrote the play after yet another tearful exchange with her one of her more right-wing relatives at the dinner table. Her mother (who has since banned all political talk at the table!) told her “They think they’re right, you think they’re right. You’ll never change their minds.” So Katy set about trying to understand – reading things she never thought she’d read, listening, watching, taking notes (so many notes!). And you know what? She never really got the answer, and she never felt like she completely understood… but we got this corker of a piece of theatre out of it, and I was lucky enough to have it written for me!

Is there a particular person a “Prudent Man” is based on, and if so care to name names?

No one specifically. It’s a clever (and subtle) mix of many politicians – Australian and international, male and female, even right and left. The original version of the script had a whole page of footnotes attributing quotes and phrases to certain people’s speeches and memoirs, but even this didn’t cover all of Katy’s inspirations, and many phrases had been uttered by multiple politicians over the years in a rather frightening loop of derivative policy-making. It’s definitely not a comedic physical or verbal parody-fest, but I often hear small sounds of recognition from the crowd during some moments – usually letting me know how old people are, where they’re from, and even who they might vote for!

Did you expect A Prudent Man to receive such praise?

Certainly not outside the inner-city arts crowd of its Melbourne Fringe premiere! But we went straight to a sell-out Perth season that seemed to us to be filled mostly with what looked like a conservative Black Swan matinee crowd, and it went down a treat, followed by some regional trips into National Party heartlands and the same thing happened. Even my Liberal-voting dad came to see it, fully expecting to unashamedly stand up and boo me, but ended up absolutely loving it! I think it lands so well because it really does transcend partisan satire and didactic political theatre, and instead asks us to consider what the consequences might be of any strongly held political belief system.

What do you hope A Prudent Man can achieve?

We hope the piece makes you question, and talk, and argue, and think… ironically the very things that caused that first tearful exchange around Katy’s family dinner table!

Do you see any hope for the future of Australian politics?

I’m an optimist. I have to believe things will get better. Even if that means things get worse first. Even if “better” also means “different” and even “not necessarily my side winning”. I have faith in us.

If Malcolm Turnbull were that terse, weird uncle at your family Christmas party, what would you say to him at the family BBQ?

I’d shake my head and say “Uncle Malcolm… what happened to you?” and I would genuinely want to hear the answer.

In light of recent events, would you change anything in the show now and of so, what would it be?

We were worried after the piece first got staged that it may not have a further life – things change, political landscapes improve or move on, and this play may lose some of its incisiveness… and then Trump got elected, and we realised A Prudent Man was ALWAYS going to resonate. It was never written to tap into the headlines of that particular time; I’m sure if we tried to change anything about the material to make it “topical”, it would fail. If anything, the news cycle often spits out sound bites and headlines that make it look like we’ve written fresh material that day!

What are you looking forward to at Brisbane Festival and why?

A varied but non-exhaustive sample from my wishlist includes: Terror (for political drama and innovative form); Two Guys in a Box (because Leon Cain is one of the funniest men I know); and Grug and the Rainbow (because come on! Grug was my entire early childhood!).

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A Prudent Man is showing at Theatre Republic – La Boite Studio as part of the Brisbane Festival from September 19-23. For tickets and more info visit: http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au/