Life After George
"The play that broke box office records during its Melbourne premiere season.
"Peter George, charistmatic academic, idealist, lover of life, is dead. His wife, two ex-wives and daughter gather for his funeral. As the true nature of the man and his life unfolds, so these women discover much about themselves and the lives they have lived both within and outside his shadow.
"Life After George is a moving and perceptive insight into social change across three decaides told through individual experiences. From the barricades the student movements of the late 1960s to the new century with his demands for different educational strategies, the university has been central to change. And it is on this stage that George played out his brilliant, tempestuous career.
"Written with passion and dangerous wit, Life After George is a compelling new drama from the author of Hotel Sorrento."
First Paragraph from the Introduction by Peter Craven:
It's been clear for a few years now (at least since the time of Hotel Sorrento) that Hannie Rayson was one of the great white hopes of the Australian theatre. She has an ability to speak directly to her audience about common experiences - and ideas, if need be - but her 'common touch' is never that of a boulevardier.
Rayson has always been a dramatist of the intimately personal with whatever politics might trail behind doing just that (though sometimes with a spikey and uncompromising quality of reality picked fresh). She is a kind of Helen Garner of the Australian stage with something of the same transcriptive verbal brilliance and perhaps with something of the same fear of the centrality that could so easily be hers. She is also a structural wizard, a master of ensemble and of swooping dramatic reversals and epiphanies that can cause a lump in the driest throat and tears in eyes unused to flow.
Among other things Life After George is an attack on the modern corporate university which many fear is selling our children's heritage for a mess of potage. It wobbles in and out of a hundred different foci - parts of it are more intellectually sure than others or more emotionally coherent - but notwithstanding it is one of the best Australian plays we have seen in years.
At play's start Peter George, a left-wing academic, has just died, suddenly and shockingly while flying his plane. The action of the play explores what sense can be made of George and his life by his old mate Duffy, a doctor who flew planes with him; by his 'unsuccessful' daughter Ana and - with the richest of counterpoints and contrasts - by his three wives. The first wife, Beatrix, a painter and mother of his children is bohemian and cultivated; Lindsay, the bright student radical girl has risen to be an academic administrator of formidable rationalising bent; and Poppy, the apparent dolly bird, a 'geek girl with attitude' uses her youth and postmodern affectlessness to disguise the fierceness of her feelings.
First Paragraph from the Director's Note by Kate Cherry:
I taught him to fly. Did you know? I taught him. But George, mate, George. You taught me to live.
So says Duffy, a Carlton Doctor, to Peter George his recently deceased friend. Life After George begins at Peter George's funeral. Through a series of flashbacks which range over the last quarter of the 20th Century, Life After George follows George's personal and political journey. Peter George, a brilliant academic who was a flawed, energetic and complicated man, lived his life with passion and gusto. He was magnificent, careless and sometimes cruel, but he sever failed to revel in life's offerings and to celebrate the importance of the life of the mind.
When George is killed in a freak plane crash, his two ex-wives, current wife and daughter must gather together to bury him. In our initial conversations, Rayson spoke of an image which became a primary impulse for the Melbourne production: the three wives sit around the coffin, each wife the 'it girl' of her generation. I imagined them united in their grief but divided by their generational differences, each woman completely isolated by her own private losses. They have all come together to mourn a man who was a life-eater.
Beatrix, George's first wife, an artist who emigrated from England to Australia with George in the late sixties, mourns the passing of her own youthful love. At the same time she watches her daughter Ana make that elusive shift from troubled youth to a woman of understanding. Lindsay, George's second wife, an ex-student whose brilliant career in academia soon eclipsed George's, is left with the knowledge that she chose to pursue ambition over the impulses of her own heart, and in doing so has nearly lost her own humanity, and has certainly lost the love of her life. Poppy, George's third wife and ex-student, works in publishing. She faces an uncertain future as her contact with George has instilled in her a politics that is unconnected to her own generation. She is left with a determination to honour the ideals George has taught her to live by, but with an uncertainty as to how to do that. At the funeral it is Ana, George's daughter, who is best able to give voice to each woman's grief and to celebrate George's life because she has learnt how to understand George's contradictions and to embrace his humanity. Despite their uneasy, painful relationship, it is Ana's gifts and passion which embody Pete George's.
From the Currency Press paperback edition, 2000.
This novel was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2001.
About the Author
Hannie Rayson is a graduate of Melbourne University and the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and has an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from La Trobe University. A co-founder of Theatreworks, she has served as Writer-in-Residence to the Mill Theatre, Playbox Theatre, La Trobe University, Monash University and VCA. Her theatre credits include Please Return to Sender (1980) and Mary (1981), each premiering at Theatreworks; and Leave It Till Monday (1984), which was first produced by the Mill Theatre. Room to Move (1985) won the Australian Writers' Guild AWGIE Award for Best Original Stage Play. Her next play, Hotel Sorrento (1990), a Playbox/Theatreworks co-production, also won an AWGIE Award as well as a NSW Premier's Literary Award and Green Room Award for Best Play of 1990. It has since had over 50 productions throughout Australia and overseas and has been translated into French, Japanese and Swedish. Her next two plays premiered at Playbox - Falling From Grace (1994), winning a NSW Premier's Literary Award, The Age Performing Arts Award, and touring to Japan in 1998; and Competitive Tenderness (1996).
Hannie's television scripts include Sloth (ABC, Seven Deadly Sins) and co-writing two episodes of SeaChange (ABC/Artists Services). A feature film of Hotel Sorrento, produced in 1995, was nominated for ten Australian Film Institute Awards. In 1999 she received the Magazine Publishers' Society of Australia's Columnist of the Year Award for her regular contributions to HQ magazine.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: May 13, 2002.