Willem Dafoe, a well-adjusted American who doesn’t know how to paint, persuades us in At Eternity’s Gate that he is a tragic, mentally skittish Dutchman who can paint mankind’s socks off.
Then there is the thespian Everest, the not post-impressionist but instead post-truthfulness Scott Morrison (and his supporting Coalition thespians) having to climb to sound warm and sincere as he tells us that he really believes the medevac bill will unleash the nightmarish armada of refugee boats.
Morrison knows that he is fibbing about all this, but only in the same way that Willem Dafoe knows that he, Dafoe, isn’t an artist and isn’t a Dutchman, in the same way Johnny Depp knows, as he portrays Jack Sparrow, that he, Depp, is not really a swashbuckling pirate of the Caribbean.
Grudgingly, I say that as an actor Scott Morrison is in the Olivier, Defoe, Depp class.
And, coming at last to the point of this week’s one-act column, I pose this searching question. Isn’t it high time that hatchet-faced, earnest, moralising commentators (like this columnist and so many others seething at the moment about Morrison’s artfulness) stopped judging Australian politics/politicians in moral ways? Instead, let’s judge Australian politics as the theatre, the feature movie that in a very real sense it is.
If all the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare famously diagnosed, then Australian politics certainly is too, and its party political men and women merely players (actors). Let us judge those players only on the quality of their acting. Let us become not just voters but theatre critics as well.
When we do this, politicians like Morrison and his best supporting actor Peter Dutton take on a new lustre. You could almost swear that what these Liberals are saying about medevac and menaces to our sovereignty is what they truly believe! It’s as if it’s coming straight from their hearts, and that those hearts are big and warm.
Their performances (being someone they’re not, saying with actorly conviction things they don’t believe) are triumphs. One is reminded by them of the triumph of Laurence Olivier, a caucasian Englishman, portraying (with a blackened face) Shakespeare’s Othello, a turbulent blackamoor driven, by jealousy, to violent murder and grisly suicide.
Again, great actors (your Dafoes, your Morrisons, your Duttons, your Oliviers) can do these things with aplomb.
And, warming to my theme, perhaps the otherwise inexplicable unpopularity of Bill Shorten (reaffirmed by this week’s much-reported Ipsos poll) is partially explained by his being such a woeful actor.
He is actually only as coldly crocodilian as your Morrisons and Duttons but unlike them is unable to put his true unattractive self aside while he tries to portray someone else, a better, kinder, sincere Shorten.
In recent days some coalition players have given us vivid, theatrical descriptions of how medevac will see us invaded by refugee criminals. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, only a B-grade actor (but perhaps convincing for those voters who dote on TV soaps) told us to expect/imagine “spivs and rapists and murderers [coming on to our shores]”.
This reminds us of that famous and famously wonderful address/prologue Shakespeare has an actor give to the audience just before they have Shakespeare’s Henry V performed for them. You can see Sir Mark Rylance doing it exquisitely just by YouTubing “O! for a muse of fire!”
In the prologue the actor tells the audience that, to get the most out of this play about the clashes of “two mighty monarchies”, to help the actors out, because there is only so much that can be done on a small stage, they (the audience) must rev up their imaginations to maximum feverishness. They must imagine that they actually see and hear the mighty, momentous things (in Henry V these include the Battle of Agincourt) the actors refer to.
This is exactly what the Sir Mark Rylances of that famous acting troupe the Coalition Players are up to now as, fearmongering, they urge Australians to imagine (so as to get the emotive most out of this moment’s Australian politics) the most apocalyptic consequences of medevac.
Do they, the coalition’s fearmongers, have the gift of that muse of fire? Are they persuading their audience? Are this week’s Ipsos results (showing the closing of the gap between Labor and the coalition) a sign that, yes, actors Morrison and Dutton are of Oscar class?
Ian Warden is a columnist for The Canberra Times