Life of the well-known unknown


Enough Blue Sky
By Mona Brand
Tawny Pit Press, 283 pp.
Reviewed by Dave Riley
Australia's New Theatre Movement was born in Sydney during the Great Depression and soon spread to other capitals. Instigated by members of the Communist Party, it was strongly influenced by the worldwide enthusiasm in the socialist movement for sharp agitational drama geared to a working class audience. This early impetus soon gave way during the party's popular front period to a broader repertoire — one which concerned itself more with generating plays with a strong Australian bias. During the late '30s and into the 1940s and '50s, the cultural work of the CPA had a significant impact among local writers. The various New Theatre groups produced a succession of plays generated from among a ready reserve of social realist and keenly nationalistic playwrights. Not all participants in this movement were members of the Communist Party. The party's influence through activities such as the New Theatres and the Realist Writers' Group and its control over various literary journals ensured that it acted as a major cultural pole of attraction. One writer who entered this orbit and then later joined the Communist Party was Mona Brand. Enough Blue Sky is subtitled, "The autobiography of Mona Brand — an unknown, well-known playwright". Perhaps prior to the very recent resurgence of Australian drama, no local playwright except for Ray Lawler could be called "well known", and the name Brand perhaps doesn't ring many bells. But Mona Brand has written some 25 plays that have been performed both here and overseas, some in translation. Best known for her anti-racist play, Here Under Heaven — first performed by Melbourne's New Theatre in 1948 — Brand has had more recent impact as co-author of On Stage Vietnam in 1967 and Here Comes Kisch! in 1984 — both produced by the Sydney New Theatre. The recently published Companion to Theatre in Australia credits Brand's plays with humour and ready satire and locates her favourably with her contemporaries. Currently she is being rediscovered by feminist scholarship, and it is to be hoped that more of her plays are published or reprinted as a consequence. However, Brand's autobiography can't decide where to locate itself. As a memoir of a writer, it lacks the writer's eye for editing. As the story of a communist, Brand is too modest. "I was never what many devout, hardworking Party members would call a good communist", she writes — although she remained a party member until 1970. As family history, maybe her relatives will appreciate the personal detail. But for a reader coming fresh to her story, the succession of anecdotes doesn't seem to confront the passions of her times. Despite her time spent in Hanoi during 1956 and the challenges of her life, the many lives she leads seem somewhat separate from one another. I for one was disappointed in what she chose to relate but tantalised enough to hope to read her plays and articles.