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Feature: Joanna Murray-Smith

Life moves fast on-stage and off for playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, as Stephanie Convery discovered.

Joanna Murray-Smith is having a busy year. The hotly-anticipated premiere of her new romantic comedy True Minds at our own Sumner Theatre notwithstanding, she is also premiering new work at Sydney Theatre Company and a new adaptation of Hedda Gabler over at STCSA. Three premieres back-to-back this April. How on earth does she find time to write, I wonder? Well, sometimes, she doesn’t.

‘I’m in a particularly dynamic period right now,’ she explains to me over the phone. ‘There’s very little time for writing because I’m busily fixing, dealing with casting issues and preparations for the different rehearsal periods. Last year was more about writing, but even then every day is different.’

I am always interested in hearing about other writers’ creative processes. ‘Could you talk me through a typical writing day for you?’ I ask.

She laughs. ‘There is no typical writing day for me,’ she says. ‘It’s an absolutely crazy mix of domestic demands, panic, exhaustion, exhilaration, travel, children, rehearsals. So that’s not to say there aren’t stretches of time where I’m getting up in the morning and distilling down and writing, but generally speaking there’s no real pattern to my day. And that’s especially true of the next six months.’

Her overseas success continues unabated, too. The Gift which MTC premiered in 2011, opened at the Geffen Theatre in the United States in January. But this isn’t something she thinks about when she sits down to write.

‘The more that my plays have been done overseas the more aware I guess I am of the potential for the plays to go offshore,’ she says. ‘But I can’t say that I ever skew a play to try and satisfy a foreign market.’

The universal appeal of a play, she suggests, is the humanity of it. ‘If the plays are about classic aspects of what it is to be human – about love, competition, envy, regret, mortality, suffering, desire – all those fundamental elements of what it is to be human, then I think you can do a play anywhere.’

Her latest play, True Minds is light-hearted fare: a romantic comedy inspired in many ways by Preston Sturges-type screwball movies from the 1930s and 40s.

‘I love those very quick-witted, quick-spoken, not particularly profane – and perhaps not even profound – but delightful entertainments. You can see which two are going to end up together, but the pleasure is in seeing what they have to go through in order to reach that ending.’

Part of the pleasure of the script is indeed the sharp, snappy dialogue between two old political foes. However, the role that politics plays in her work, she suggests, is more unconscious than anything.

‘Anyone who argues any position too strenuously always seems to me to be ripe for parody,’ she muses. ‘The extremes of the right and left to me are equally ridiculous. My parents were very political in their early lives – in fact, their early lives were completely dominated by it. But by the time I was born, they were extremely cynical about hard-line politics and that was the context in which I grew up.

‘[The politics] is, of course, extremely comedic in True Minds,’ she says ‘but I think the theme of human willingness to believe in a particular ideology at the expense of truth – particularly at the expense of emotional truth – is something that comes up again and again in my work.’

You can watch Joanna introduce the plot for True Minds in the video below, taken at our 2013 Season Launch event.

True Minds is playing at Southbank Theatre, the Sumner from 25 April to 8 June.

This post is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in our subscriber newsletter, Scenes.

Published on 27 March 2013