With the Lysicrates Prize there’s always something new. In 2018, working with the Griffin Theatre, we moved the competition from its birthplace, the Sydney Conservatorium, to the Sydney Opera House – a pretty big deal in the world of Lysicrates; and for the first time, to ensure fairness to all the finalists, we decided to use the same director and actors in all three plays.
Trippas White offered introductory drinks. Then to kick off, Brock Tutt played his haunting didgeridoo; Louise Herron, the Opera House CEO, welcomed the prestigious Lysicrates Competition to the Opera House; and Lee Lewis, Artistic Director of the Griffin Theatre, enthusiastically explained the thinking behind the Prize. And then the show began.
The Drama Theatre in the Opera House is built to convey speech not music, so every word could clearly be heard; and the actors were such outstanding chameleons it was sometimes hard to recognise them from one play to the next.
All three finalists, Galilee by Christine Evans, The Hollow Queen, by H Lawrence Sumner and Starfish by Travis Cotton, were of very high quality. A strong moral theme underlay them all in one way or another. But they were far from one-dimensional. Galilee, set in coastal Queensland near a proposed coalmine, brought together personal and public integrity; The Hollow Queen explored multiple themes – aboriginality, exploitation, mystery, loss and hypocrisy; and Starfish dealt with the reverses in a relationship that time can bring.
The audience of 400 that filled the Drama Theatre listened in absolute silence. When your vote counts, you pay attention. It was after the actors had taken their bows that the chattering broke out. Acclaim, arguments, passion, it was all there as people lined up to cast their tokens into the urns. Here was some of the best of Australia, on, and off, the stage. In the foyer, many bought the beautiful 2018 Lysicrates book, with its unique array of photographs and articles on history and drama.
Now it was time for the fabled walk to the Monument, on flat ground this year. Even here there were innovations. The Botanic Garden provided one of their charming little trains for those who preferred to ride. Then something unexpected. Taking the train was Sharon Zhai, Sydney Opera House’s Cio Cio San, who spontaneously offered to sing to the assemblage in front of the Monument.
Linda Hurley, the wife of David Hurley, the Governor of New South Wales, sang her charming Lysicrates Song. And then the moment of truth arrived. The winner, announced by the Governor, was – Starfish, by Travis Cotton! Don Harwin, the NSW Minister for the Arts, made an elegant speech.
Travis told us how much this appreciation meant to him, because being a writer was a very lonely job. He was warmly applauded. John and Patricia Azarias concluded the formal part of the evening. And then, a wonderful bonus, Sharon sang, a glorious soprano floating above the trees.
Fabulous catering from Trippas White rounded off a unique, inspiring and increasingly important event in the Sydney calendar. Onward and upward for the Lysicrates Prize.
2018 Winner: Travis Cotton
The 2018 Finalists
Playwright: Christine Evans
Carol’s deferred her studies in marine biology at UQ, and moved back home to fishing town Galilee to help the family out after her Dad’s mining accident. However, she’s secretly in crisis herself, after the death of her lover Laura. Carol can’t face diving on the Reef she loves—a secret she hides from her mother and old pal Jimmy, an ex-diver.
The Hollow Queen
Playwright: H Lawrence Sumner
Eleanor Wakeman, notable children’s author, is about to receive a lifetime achievement award. Enter Perry Forrest, an Aboriginal journalism student who has arrived to interview Eleanor. As the interview progresses he reveals his true intent… to sue Eleanor Wakeman for plagiarising the Dreaming Stories of the local Aboriginal group.
The keeper of these dreaming stories is Elder Corrine Forrest. Corrine is fighting a battle against time. She must retrieve her dreaming stories before Maningalli, the great She-tree arrives… The Hollow Queen is on her way – and her revenge is near.
Playwright: Travis Cotton
Starfish looks at the lives of two people, Connie Bishop, and Richard Meadows. Connie’s life starts off with difficulty. She’s five and her mother has committed suicide. She sits down with a therapist to make sense of it all. The therapist, recognising her love of poetry, suggests she writes a poem for her mother, then bury it to dig up when she’s older. Richard’s life starts off with privilege: good family, and a real sense of direction even at the age of seven. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and be a war journalist. Slowly, as they get older, Connie’s luck turns good and Richard’s turns bad.