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Interview with Mark Little

21 May 2015 Imogen Greenberg

Mark Little has a host of TV and film credits including Australian soap Neighbours. But he loves the stage, and is starring in For One Day of the Year at the Finborough Theatre. London Calling caught up with him to find out why this controversial play is still so relevant...


London Calling: For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a bit about For One Day of the Year? It’s only been shown in the UK once, more than 50 years ago.

Mark Little: It’s an Aussie classic, and it’s been around for a long time, since the late 50s. When they first tried to put it on, it was banned. It’s a very contentious piece of work in the Aussie lexicon.

This year, it’s the commemoration of 100 years since WWI and Gallipoli, which the play covers. There’s a day in Australia called Anzac day, which is all about commemorating our war dead. It’s like poppy day here. Events like Gallipoli framed early Australian society. It was part of legend building, myth building, mate-ship and courage. It was the Gallipoli soldiers who put Australia on the map. People realised they’re not just a colony, they’re actually part of the empire and they’re contributing.

This play is a coming of age play. It’s about a young man and his father, and their working class family in Sydney. It’s about Australia changing in the 50s and 60s, the coming of television and the coming of American culture. It’s about identity. Both for the young man looking to grow from a boy into a man, and a modern Australian man, and his Dad who’s an old fashioned Aussie man. It’s a clash of cultures, of old and new. The old man represents a lot of bigotry and xenophobia, fear and the young son represents a new, hopeful Australia, and a hopeful world. It’s a big play, with big, big themes.


LC: What drew you to the play, why did you want to be a part of it?

ML: The director [Wayne Harrison] has a really good reputation, and I really wanted to work with him. I also really wanted to work at the Finborough, which has a really good reputation for good strong fringe theatre. When I say fringe I mean experimental, innovative theatre.

The character is a classic Australian role. Alf is quite a character. He sort of encapsulates everything about Australia. I’ve done a few characters in the Australian canon and I hadn’t done Alf, and I’ve got to the age where I can play Alf. It’s an amazing role, because it’s quite tragic but also quite funny. I really like theatre that does that, takes a really heavy subject but has a comic edge to it.


LC: Why do you think the play was so controversial when Alan Seymour wrote it in the 50s?

ML: Because the Anzac is very sacred, and this play was showing the way it was celebrated, as a big booze-up public holiday. The younger generation were getting more ashamed of being Australian than they were proud of being Australian. Those are the issues the play looks at, and it just didn’t go down too well with establishment Australia.


LC: Do you think attitudes to Anzac day have changed again since the play was written?

ML: Yes, it’s gone backwards and forwards. When I was a kid, through the 70s and the Vietnam War, it really went out fashion. It seems to be back in fashion now. Now there’s a fight on of trying not to commodify Anzac day and treat it as a celebration, and commemoration of our dead. It becomes confused. It’s really interesting, the same issue is happening over here. How do we celebrate or commemorate WWI and WWII, how do we acknowledge it without making it like a party?


LC: Despite the controversy, Seymour felt able to criticise Anzac day. Do you think remembrance days have become untouchable, especially with the centenary?

ML: It’s a very difficult argument to argue against it. You have to really pick your words and your moment and your time. It’s certainly the time to do it, but its very contentious whichever way you come at it. As artists, that’s our job, to throw ourselves in there and nail it to the mast.

It is a really balanced piece, that’s the great thing about this. It doesn’t have any answers, but it throws up a lot of questions and has you thinking. Its full of heart! The play says here is our compassion, and are we in danger of losing that in the face of a new, modern, changing world? Is that going to happen or do we have the ability to have compassion? I think it comes down to that, and in that way it’s not controversial, but it’s a shame we have to even ask that question.


LC: You’re well known for your TV roles, including your role in Australian soap Neighbours. Do you prefer stage acting?

ML: I like it because the work is more important and has depth to it. I like the theatre. I think it’s the last bastion of uncensored adult entertainment. I don’t know what’s happening to film. It used to be quite an art form and now it’s more blockbusters. In television it’s not everyday that you get something too heavy or too thoughtful. But the stage is always attempting it.


LC: You recently starred in Shock Treatment, a sequel to the classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, about the media. Did it ring true with any of your own experiences?

ML: That’s the life we lead now. The last election proved how important Murdoch is as the PR machine for any particular government. It’s really relevant! Things like Fox News and media ownership, that’s really important for those that are in control and power.


LC: You’ve been based in the UK for a while now. What made you want to settle here?

ML: It’s where the work is, and we brought the kids over and they stayed here, Europe’s here, and its all here. Politically, it’s hard, Australia’s going through some trouble at the moment, they’ve got a dodgy old government. Now we’ve got a dodgy old government here. Who knows, I’m running out of places to hide.


Mark Little stars as Alf in The One Day of the Year at the Finborough Theatre from 19th May to the 13th June. To book tickets, please see their website.

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