There’s only one thing wrong with the Finborough Theatre’s current production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year: the theatre it’s in is too small.
I don’t mean the production doesn’t fit the space, or that the theatre is uncomfortable, rather that this classic Australian play needs a far bigger audience. In fact I believe this very production should be on the stage of the National Theatre.
The One Day of the Year is possibly Australia’s best play, or certainly its best-known. So I was quite shocked to see it hasn’t been produced in London since 1961, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Is this yet another sign of the UK’s indifference to all things Australian?
The themes of the story are still current: Anzac Day in Australia is a big event. This year, being the 100th anniversary, was even bigger. I was in Australia at the time and the coverage was so intense that come the Day itself, rather like young Hughie in One Day, I felt I had had enough. Of course there are no Anzac diggers any more and very few surviving veterans of WW2, but the event itself still sparks controversy: there are still people who believe, from the critics of the Tower of London poppies to the anti-Anzacs in Oz, that any commemoration of war is a glorification.
This is the central theme of Alan Seymour’s play. Alf is a WW2 veteran whose life since the war has been disappointing. Anzac Day is the lighlight of his year and gives him the excuse to attend the dawn parade before getting blind drunk on the streets of Sydney with his mates. Son Hughie, who is at university, is appalled, not just at his father’s drunkenness but at the public ‘celebration’ of what was one of the biggest disasters of WW1.
The Finborough production is riveting: the performances – Mark Little as Alf, James William Wright as Hughie, Paul Haley as Gallipolli veteran Wacka, Adele Querol as Joe’s posh girlfriend Jan and, in particular, Fiona Press as Alf’s wife and backbone of the family, Dot, are superb. It’s hard to imagine a better production all round.
Australia’s Arthur Miller
Alan Seymour, who died in March of this year, is known really only for this one play, his first. He takes no sides in his own argument, which is what makes his play so powerful. It reminded me many times as I was watching it last night of Arthur Miller – in particular his Death of a Salesman (disappointed father, stoic, loving, long-suffering wife) and All My Sons (flawed father, disillusioned sons, generational conflict). Like Miller, The One Day caused controversy at its Australian opening for daring to criticise elements of his own country. Like Miller, Seymour tells his story through flesh-and-blood characters, all of them flawed in one way or another, each of them demanding our sympathy.
I met Alan when he was working at the BBC here in London. He was tremendously helpful and encouraging when I was trying to become a TV scriptwriter. After he moved back to Australia I visited him whenever I was there at his beautiful Darlinghurst flat in Sydney. He was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, and one of the most self-deprecating. He once described his play as an ‘albatross’, but I think he’d have been very proud and delighted at this latest revival of it.
He would have been even prouder to see it on stage at the National Theatre, where it should be.