Lord of Misrule


writer's notes

[derived from a grant submission]

Following are a few background notes on the writing of the play, its inspiration, creative intent, the issues it is attempting to address, the theatrical style it adopts and why - and how it is an attempt not just to debate an issue, but to experiment with the theatrical form.

The play's basic theme is the human characteristic of addiction - something which, in many forms and to various degrees, I think we all experience. I have written on the subject before - the play In Angel Gear being the most comprehensive example. In Angel Gear actively sought to reproduce the look and feel of the heroin subculture of Melbourne in the early nineties. It was a successful play, the production winning the Victorian Green Room Award for its year. Stylistically, it fitted snugly into the Dirty Realism push that was much talked about in literature of the time.

Nearly 10 years later, in Australia at least, the issue is at the forefront of the public consciousness - indeed, In Angel Gear is having its first Sydney season in early 2002. However, Lord of Misrule, is a very different kind of play, looking more deeply into the psyche of the addict and concentrating on using the particular abilities of theatre to help frame the discussion. Like In Angel Gear it strives not to moralise.


Prior to writing Lord of Misrule, I was observing a health conscious friend caring for her kombucha: a variety on fungus which produces, [or more accurately oozes,] a sweet vitality-giving tea. Without intending to, the woman found herself spending a great deal of time ministering to this grey blob - kept in a bowl of sugary water in a cupboard beside her oven. The amount of work required to sustain the organism and keep up a good supply of tea surprised her.

She commented that she was beginning to feel enslaved by the fungus, that it had become a responsibility equivalent to that of having a young child. However serious she was, I instantly thought of drug addicts, particularly heroin addicts, and how they too were governed - strictly, harshly - by the necessities of their addiction.

I began to think of the other, lesser addictions or obsessions that plague or fascinate us: for food, god, health and exercise, for love, bird-watching and collecting Star Wars figurines - and how at all their roots lie similar behavioural equations; what William S Burroughs termed 'the algebra of need'.

Addiction is a phenomenon in which a single thing can turn our lives on their heads; a particular interest can lodge in a part of our brain that unaccountably generates obsession, making a useless thing necessary, a boring thing fascinating, a trinket valuable. In itself it is not intrinsically evil. An obsession can lead to greatness [perhaps through science or art] or destruction [through harmful drugs]. It can give our lives meaning or can drain them of it. I thought of people I knew with an addictive tendency and how they often worked to complete a wonderful artwork with the same energy they employed to ruin their lives with drugs. Observations of this kind led me to writing The Lord of Misrule.

I thought that by examining this subject in an unfamiliar context, I might reduce the tendency to automatic judgement [moral or otherwise], allowing an audience to be less alienated by characters who might otherwise revolt them, suggesting that addiction may affect, not just the weakest amongst us, but any one of us. Lord of Misrule does focus particularly on the addiction to drugs, but most of the characters affected are essentially normal, and comprehensible to a general audience.

The style of Realism - where euphemism is abandoned and elaborate stylistic devices shied from - is currently well respected and common, having filtered down as far as television ads warning of drugs, driving under the influence etc. Though effective, it is not a new thing for audiences, and I believe there is room at present for a new slant that may drive a point home more forcibly, partly by virtue of its novelty. [Additionally, I like to believe there is value for theatre generally in finding new uses for the tools and devices with which it is endowed.]

The shock of the new or unusual can assist in a playšs power as a vehicle for social discussion. Freshness increases the level of interest in a work, and promotes an audiencešs engagement with its themes. The styles of surrealism and absurdism have particular strengths in this regard. The bizarre scenarios we find in Ionescošs plays, or Beckettšs, entertain us in themselves, but also open the door for involvement with the more serious issues beneath. Also, against an unfamiliar backdrop stripped of emotional and moral associations, we may more objectively regard the nature of social interaction in this world. In Lord of Misrule, money becomes sugar, and we watch its passage through various hands without prior judgement affecting our perception.

Whilst setting the play in an unknown world, I have taken care not to disorient the audience unnecessarily. Išve attempted to maintain a strong narrative flow, to use clear sharp language, and to establish entertaining, vividly defined characters who - whilst providing examples of the personality types that tend to be involved in drug culture - also work as symbols for certain aspects of the subject.

As an allegory, Lord of Misrule uses symbolism extensively, though not always explicitly. Often, it functions as subtext, subconsciously informing the audience, helping them absorb the play's ambience, [which in itself holds clues to the meaning]: the all-enveloping rain of dust which affects the environment the way the drug affects Luther's brain; Lutheršs donning of a different uniform each day, suggesting the drug induced confusion he is experiencing at work, the map of Ubar which symbolises freedom for Sugar...


The addict sometimes personalises his drug of choice. In his mind, it may become a invincible figure of evil, done battle with again and again, but apparently indefatigable and impossibly resilient. The addict may as a result come to blame the drug, not his own weakness, for his failure, as if the drug itself - and not aspects of his own personality - is actively evolving strategies to defeat him.

In Lord of Misrule this situation becomes real. The drug actively enslaves; 'She' has a spirit which can influence the real world. It engineers micro-societies for its own benefit. It can change its form to defeat an addict's attempts at rehabilitation - or the law's attempt to suppress it. These powers are a symbol for the addict's own efforts to defeat himself, and are given human form in the character of Theudas.

Apposite to this is the co-evolution of addictive drugs and the human species: a curious theory that seems to find a minor but interesting place in the symbolic structure of the play. With science we evolve stronger, more addictive drugs; we breed hemp and the opium poppy for higher yield and alkaloid content - so that, in effect, these plants are being selected for evolutionary survival. Homo sapiens becomes a vassal species, working to propagate these species. From a certain perspective, it may seem that we have been enslaved by plants, working in the fields to satisfy their evolutionary imperatives.

Such thoughts as the above are wound into the play as subtext and though they are not permitted to interfere with narrative movement, or character motivation, they do, I hope, provide fodder for any audience member who wishes to go deeper into the text. At the two readings we have so far held, I have been surprised at the level of discussion that naturally followed. People appeared interested in sorting through the web of symbolism, easily sensing levels of meaning beneath the obvious. What caused Theudasšs resurrection? What was symbolised by the rain of dust? Thus, using an uncommon theatrical form, it seems possible to provoke further discussion of an issue.

sam sejavka


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