Vice: a play ripped from the headlines

Melvyn Morrow’s new play is about to open at Newtown’s King Street Theatre, and it has a distinct “ripped from the headlines” feel. Centred around horrific reality of sexual assault in private schools and written by a former school teacher, this show is set to be a reflection of the darker side of the world we live in.  

Melvyn Morrow
Melvyn Morrow

Here’s the scenario: The coach of an exclusive private Sydney boys’ school finds himself acting as principal when sexual abuse accusations threaten to explode the community’s veneer of quiet privilege. There are rumours that his drama teacher wife is having an affair with a talented and sexually precocious student. Meanwhile he must fend off the machinations of a rival for the principal’s job as suspicions are also cast over the motives of an openly gay school board trustee. When an old boy senior counsel is brought in to investigate these matters, who can separate truth from fiction? 

Morrow (her holiness, A Song to Sing O, Dusty, Shout!) taught English, and directed plays, in schools all over Australia, England, and France, so he possesses a unique insight into the inner workings of a school.

What you see on a glossy travel brochure and the reality you discover once you’ve reached the destination can often be poles apart. It’s the same with schools,” said Morrow.

“The idealised prospectus and the day-to-day classroom and playground life are often at odds.

“The disgusting history of sexual abuse in schools means that schools can, on occasions, feel like powder kegs waiting to explode.

“Over the years, I’ve seen how schools work in practice – the underside, if you like – and given the occasional quirks of brilliant teachers and gifted students, not to mention the complications and contradictions that a five million dollar benefactor can lob into a hot button issue, the institutional setting offers rich opportunities for drama.”

Ben  McCann and Margi De Ferranti.
Ben McCann and Margi De Ferranti.

When Morrow was working on the musical SHOUT!, which he co-wrote, he was encouraged by Richard Wherrett to use his inside knowledge on schools and religion and write a play, sparking the flame for Vice.

Truth, like quicksilver, can be slithery,” Morrow said.

“I won’t be at all surprised if Vice audiences display divided sympathies. The play is situated somewhere between Whodunit and Whodunwhat. If it causes controversy, that means audiences are experiencing the layered reality of school life from the participants’ viewpoint. Investigative journalists into educational scandals can oversimplify what in special circumstances can be a mess of mixed motives and surprises from left field.”

Vice is directed by Elaine Hudson (STC’s The Crucible) and stars Jonathan Deves (St James Infirmary), Margi de Ferranti (Ruthless, Carrie), Roger Gimblett (The Winslow Boy), Christopher Hamilton (The Hatpin, Les Miz), Jess Loudon (The Big Funk) and Ben McCann (The BIG MAKado).

Below, Melvyn Morrow talks to Andrew O’Keefe all about Vice.

Vice will play the King Street Theatre from April 21 – May 9. For bookings and more information visit www.kingstreettheatre.com.au.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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