Today is my Australia Day. I know it’s not the 26th January, it’s the 21st of September so I hope my antipodean readers will forgive me. But today is my Australia Day because I want to tell you about two astonishing pieces of creative work by two Australian artists that have blown my heart and mind.
The first is by Simon Stone. He is the writer and theatre director (two talents that are rarely brought together here in the UK on the same stage) who has created Yerma at the Young Vic. The man is a genius. The play is based on a piece by the early twentieth century Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca which is set in rural Spain. Stone relocates the story to contemporary London – even Brexit is on his characters’ lips – and just his ability to reinvent the original so skilfully would be impressive enough. But, boy, this man knows how to direct. These days, I rarely see anything in the theatre that surprises me, delights me, moves me, grips me from beginning to end but Yerma does that and more. I want to worship at this man’s feet. I want the world to see this play.
And I also want the world to read Julia Leigh’s new book Avalanche (published elsewhere already and in the UK by Faber & Faber on the 6th October). She is the second person I honour on my Australia Day. Julia is a writer and film director who over the last decade has been amassing her own impressive army of fans. The nobel prize-winning authors JM Coetzee and Toni Morrison have both praised her work. And now to add to her novels, Julia has published a searing memoir: lyrical, beautiful and true. And for this I worship her too because with all her creative success, Julia didn’t need to lay her life and inner most feelings bare, but she did. She is not only a superb artist but also a great human being because of it.
Both Yerma and Avalanche are about the experience of longing for a child but not being able to create one, however hard you try. They are about how the struggle to conceive takes over your life; how your relationships break down because of it; how your sanity and self are destroyed. They are about a subject that no one really wants to talk about and that society doesn’t seem to want to understand. Yet, it’s an experience that is happening on every street from England to Australia and it’s a social phenomenon that will shape the world in years to come. So we have to talk about it and understand it. Don’t we?
I walked past the Young Vic yesterday at lunchtime and people were already queuing out the door for returns. Yerma has rightly received five star reviews across the board and the run has sold out. And last week Avalanche was reviewed on the front cover of the book pages of the New York Times. When artists make art that is this good, people want to read and go regardless of what it is about. The understanding of infertility that comes with it might be just a bi-product but it’s going to be vital to future generations, that I know. So this is why I am celebrating Australia Day in September. Simon, Julia, thank you and hurrah.