Mark Twain once said “God created war so that Americans would learn geography” and this is how I feel about Eurovision. I’d never heard of Azerbaijan before their end-credits-on-an-80s-rom-com number “Running Scared” won in 2011, yet now I can tell you about their location, their exports, their time-zone and even their human rights abuses. They also have one gay man, apparently. And he’s a hairdresser (I wish I was making this up – he was mentioned by an official as a rebuff to the idea the country was homophobic).
Eurovision was, in part, created out of war. In the 1950s the countries of Western Europe were developing television technology and wanted to experiment with multi-country live events, while also hopefully uniting countries that had recently been bombing each other. As it was an international exercise they needed something that transcended spoken language so their first thought was – I kid you not – a circus skills extravaganza! It’s hard to imagine the Eurovision Juggling Contest would be going 50 years later, although it’s nice to think the UK may still have used it as a comeback opportunity for faded artists. Who wouldn’t want to see Bonnie Tyler on a trapeze? Or the members of Blue forming a oddly-shaped human pyramid?
Second choice was singing, and a legend was born. But suffering still infuses through the contest. As Europe has fought, and healed, and changed, Eurovision has been there. Seven countries competed in the first competition in 1956 – thirty-nine in 2013. Our concept of Europe has changed, and Eurovision has changed with it.
And at this year’s Melbourne International Fringe Festival I have a play about it! Co-written with The Bazura Project’s Lee Zachariah, Songs For Europe is two short pieces exploring the Eurovision legacy. In the first half a young journalist comes to interview an aging singer about her nul points performance and gets more than he bargained for; and then in 1974 Portuguese activists gather in a café awaiting the Eurovision song that will trigger the revolution (again, a true story – there’s a Eurovision song that started an uprising. Even Pink can’t claim that).
It has a great cast, including Marta Kaczmarek (The Circuit, Shine, Offspring) and Nick Colla (Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Wicked Science) and has been brilliantly directed by Lucas Testro (Neighbours, Winners & Losers, All Saints). My Splendid Chaps colleagues are all involved too, Ben McKenzie is producing, Petra Elliott is appearing as a Portuguese bar owner – the role she was born to play! – and our tech wizard David Ashton is creating both the sound design and our brand new 1982 Eurovision entry. You can see the whole fabulous cast listed below.
It’s 8 shows only, September 19 – 29, Thursday through Sunday at 7.45pm (6.45pm on the Sundays) at Broken Mirror in Brunswick. I’m really excited about it, and I’d love you to see it. Tickets are on sale now!
So I leave you with the song that started a revolution – Paulo de Carvalho with “E Depois Do Adeus”. And remind you that the real winner here… is music. Au revoir mon Ami!