Eddie Perfect Unleashes the Beast

It’s entirely possible that Eddie Perfect has the most resplendent hair in Australia. The composer-performer might be 35, an age at which most men have started to thin out up top, yet Perfect’s whipped blond meringue is a sight to behold: what happens when electric shock meets quality hair product. When he arrives red-cheeked from Melbourne’s chill, decked in a black Fred Perry pullover, the hair almost precedes the man himself.

One of the first things Eddie Perfect tells me is that he’s not great with long interviews. It’s not because he’s afraid of being dissected, more that he can’t fathom why anyone would find him – bona fide TV star; cabaret wünderkind; ARIA chart-climber; Logie nominee; the man responsible for Shane Warne: The musical; the adult choirboy who gets away with singing the most delightfully reprehensible stuff – remotely interesting. Tim Minchin – Perfect’s friend and jester laureate – once jokingly threatened to write ‘Eddie Perfect: The musical’ if Perfect died before him. When I bring up the idea now, Perfect recoils. A musical based on his life, he says, would be the most heinously boring thing in the world. “There would be long, terminal songs about work–life balance and identity, and the torn nature between whether I should stay in this country or go to another one,” he says.

We’ve met at Josie Bones in Collingwood, a nose-to-tail restaurant that specialises in serving gourmet offal, butchery and gore. Given the subject matter of Perfect’s latest project, we agree to order the most confronting thing on the restaurant’s menu: half a pig’s face, roasted to a crisp and designed to be torn apart. Perfect’s forthcoming play The Beast – written for the Melbourne Theatre Company – centres on the slaughter of a baby animal and will feature copious amounts of blood on stage. (“A lot of blood,” he emphasises.) The Beast’s plot is simple: three middle-class tree-change couples arrange for a calf to be ethically butchered for a dinner party but end up faced with the grim task of killing the creature themselves. After countless awards for Perfect’s musicals and cabaret shows, The Beastrepresents two firsts for him: it’s the first thing he’s written that doesn’t involve singing, and the first in which he won’t perform. Rehearsals begin the next day and Perfect is nervous. “I’m not going to know what to do with my hands on opening night,” he says. “I’ve never sat in an audience to watch a show of mine.”

As he explains The Beast to me, I tell him it reminds me of Manderlay, Lars von Trier’s 2005 Brechtian film in which a donkey was slaughtered live on set, prompting a key actor to quit the production. (Von Trier pulled the offending scene from the final cut.) For reasons unknown, MTC has billedThe Beast as adults only. Even Perfect doesn’t know why. Will a calf actually be slaughtered on stage?

“It’d be hard to do that eight shows a week,” he points out. “We’d run out of cows.”

A waiter interrupts us to present the restaurant’s signature dish on a tray. The pig’s face arrives bisected, vertically sliced from forehead to jaw, and lying on its side. It looks like the pig might wake up at any moment. To counter this illusion, the chef has stabbed it square in the eyeball with a large knife. There’s no shying away from the brutality of it all.

“Yeah,” Perfect says. “It’s like, ‘Let’s not pretend this is anything other than what it is.’”

“Are you grossed out?” I ask.

“No,” he says, adding quietly, “I’m kind of into it.”

Edmund Perfect is his swear-to-God real name. Going through his family tree is like reading the cast of characters for a jolly sitcom: his grandfather was Percy Perfect, his mother is Judy Perfect and his father is Tom Perfect, an Englishman who settled in Victoria as a ten-pound Pom. One of three kids, Perfect is sandwiched between sisters Celeste and Anna. From a young age, the Perfect siblings’ extracurricular activities were distinctly European: they studied music at the Yamaha Music School in Malvern and attended ballet classes together. “Sport was always there – it’s kind of unavoidable,” Perfect says, “but there was the sense of a classical education being important.” There was always a piano in the house. Perfect was playing by ear at the age of five.

His music teacher was appalled. “When I was about six, the teacher finally worked out that I was not sightreading and refused to play anything for me after that. I just lost interest.” By that stage, Perfect already preferred Billy Joel to Brahms. In his mid-teens, he discovered Hendrix, grunge and the blues, picked up a guitar and found himself interested in music again. He returned to the piano stool, and hasn’t stopped playing since.

“I love that instrument,” he says. “It’s different to the guitar. I reckon there are guitar people and piano people. There’s the Tin Pan Alley piano tradition that comes all the way from the Gershwins and Broadway through to Billy Joel, Elton John and Tom Waits. Then there’s the guitar tradition that runs all the way through folk and Bob Dylan. I was always a piano person. You sit down at a piano and it’s an orchestra in a box. You’ve got rhythm, you’ve got harmony – you’ve got all the parts for all the movements.”

As well as focusing on the arts, Judy and Tom Perfect – both teachers – instilled in their children a deep affection for the Australian outdoors. When Perfect was 12, his parents took the kids out of school for an entire term to travel across Australia in a Kombi van. On the road, the Perfect family would play and sing along to The Pirates of Penzance soundtrack and Gilbert and Sullivan songs, as well as properly demented stuff, like the 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The demon barber of Fleet Street, whose antihero is a deranged, vengeful barber and murderer who has his victims cooked in pies.

© Meredith O’Shea

“All of it was songwriting in the service of selling an idea,” Perfect says now. “I always responded to that.”

After duxing St Bede’s, an all-boys high school in Mentone, Perfect found university utterly demoralising. Convinced he was destined to be a great visual artist, he enrolled in RMIT’s printmaking course. The problem, his lecturers said, was that he didn’t have anything to say with the medium. Perfect was still singing in amateur musicals as a hobby, so he enrolled in a four-year course at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to study classical singing. The idea was to become an opera singer.

At the end of the students’ second year, they performed a recital so they could be assessed and separated into disciplines. To get into the prestigious performing stream, students had to score a high distinction. Everyone who didn’t make the grade was left with the offcut options: music therapy, music education or composition. Perfect thought he’d made it. Then he discovered he hadn’t.

“I was devastated,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ I didn’t want to sing ‘Kumbaya’ for old people – not that there’s anything wrong with old people – but I was like, ‘That’s not what I got into this for.’”

Meanwhile, all of Perfect’s theatre friends were focused on auditions to get into Perth’s Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), which, at that stage, offered Australia’s only full-time musical theatre degree. Perfect figured it would be impossible to get in, but auditioned anyway. One of the songs he performed was ‘Rhymes Have I’, taken from the 1950s musical Kismet, set in an Arabian Nights-esque Baghdad. It’s perfect Perfect material. “I love that song, it’s ridiculous,” he says. “It’s a man in an open marketplace, literally selling nothing but rhymes.”

Sly rhymes, wry rhymes, meet rhymes have I
To a world too prone to be prosaic
I bring my own panacea
An iota of iambic and a tittle of trochaic
Added to a small amount of onomatopoeia

Perfect nailed the audition. Even now, he often thinks about what would’ve happened had WAAPA not accepted him. When I ask whether the decision to commit to study on the other side of the country was difficult, Perfect laughs. “Not when you had the girlfriend I had,” he says. To get away from her, Perfect says he would have gone to “the Siberian Academy of Performing Arts. SAPA.”

At WAAPA, Perfect began to write songs prolifically. When productions needed original tunes, he volunteered. When students devised group sketches – mini university revues – Perfect wrote their songs. By 22, and in his second year at WAAPA, Perfect had written and performed his first musical, Up, which Australian high school students still occasionally perform.

“I remember playing the concert and thinking, ‘This is the only thing I’ve ever discovered in my life that I love more than performing. If I got attacked by a lion and my voice box got ripped out, it would be OK as long as I could still use my hands and write music.’”

It’s strange to think, then, that Perfect would write a play like The Beast. Knocking back the crisp, sour beer the barman has told us best accompanies a roasted pig’s face, Perfect says, “I wanted to challenge myself to write something without songs. I have no qualifications to write a play, but I had no qualifications to compose music either. I just got to a point where I was comfortable with composing music through trial and error. So this is the new frontier: ‘Why don’t I just write a play?’”

Though initially nervous about the lack of a soundtrack, Perfect said he quickly felt liberated. “Writing a song is a very constructed, difficult thing to do,” he says. “You’ve got to sit in a house with a piano and ignore your kids. You’ve got to try and find time to write. [With a play] all you’ve got to do is write words. You can just sit anywhere – here, in a cafe, in the park – and just write.”

The Beast was partly inspired by something that happened when Perfect and his wife, Lucy, moved to regional Victoria for two years in 2010. Perfect had just finished the first run of Shane Warne: The musical. Their first daughter, Kitty, was three months old and they were climbing the walls, having outgrown Lucy’s apartment in Richmond. The family needed space. “We went out on a weekend to Healesville, saw this amazing house and were like, ‘This is great.’” On a whim, they applied for the lease and scored the property. An hour out of Melbourne proper, the location was ideal, except that Perfect had to wake up at 4 am to get to shoots for the Channel Ten show Offspring.


Eddie and Lucy befriended locals and were invited to a dinner party declared the Feast of the Beast. The concept was to have a humanely slaughtered calf butchered on site, with all the guests present and witnessing the process from start to finish. From there, each couple would create a course from a part of the calf. The Perfects had the job of making ravioli with the tail.

On the day of the feast, something went wrong. “When the guy turned up to do the butchering, he stuck his knife in the carcass. It was hanging up in a refrigerated trailer, ready for butchering. Then the whole thing shifted and [the butcher] fell onto his knife and cut his hand open. Everyone rushed him to Ringwood Hospital. He was fine: he got stitched up, gloved up, bandaged up, came back and finished the butchering.”

Later, at dinner, the couples speculated about what could have happened if a professional hadn’t been able to slaughter and butcher the calf. What would you do if he wasn’t there? Perfect felt it was a great premise. “They [the characters] wanted to have an experience where the animal was completely respected,” he says. “But, in reality, they are forced to kill it in a way that causes great suffering, and so it negates their entire purpose for having undertaken the task in the first place.”

In writing The Beast, Perfect wanted to critique the (he suspects flimsy) ethical ideals of a particular 21st-century urban demographic – essentially, he says, the kind of person who might be a typical MTC theatre subscriber. “It’s about the distinction between the things people do that are good and the things people do in the cause of making themselves look good. It’s about people who wear their particular causes as a badge of honour.”

Now that he’s written the play, does Perfect feel he has a stronger grasp on where he stands on animal welfare, the ethics of meat consumption and moral vanity?

“I’m so murky about it,” he says, sawing into the swine-face on his plate. “I don’t think I could have written this play if I was clear about it. I don’t know if we had an agenda to push, but —”

He interrupts himself, mouth full of meat, and involuntarily groans. “Ugh,” he says. “This is so good.”

Perfect’s next project will be epic. He plans to write a musical based on Australia’s colonial settlement from 1788 to 1792. People in the industry already refer to it as ‘The Fatal Shore: The musical’. “It’s an opportunity to write something really bold, fucking black, bleak, funny, dark and wrong about our country’s origins, in a way that makes everyone – from whitefellas to blackfellas to ethnic minorities – laugh,” he says, pushing away the fatty, mutilated pig’s carcass. It’s either writing this, he says, “or I could end up writing ‘The Castle: The musical’”.

When asked whether he’d consider writing another play, Perfect winces.

“It depends how this goes,” he says. “It could be the worst thing ever.” For him, the worst-case scenario for The Beast is that “the audience hates it, the critics hate it, no one goes, it’s a flop”.

“When was the last time you were behind a flop, though?” I ask.

Shane Warne: The musical.”

I point out that the musical was a huge critical success. Shane Warne himself was reluctantly dragged along to one of the shows, before hooting with applause and having his photo taken with Perfect for publicity.

“Yeah, but it didn’t make anyone any money,” Perfect says of the production. “The show itself was good, but the original production was a commercial flop. Everybody who invested in that show lost their money. I invested three years of my life on it, so I lost money in that respect, too. I’m not diminishing the show or anything, but it was a commercial failure. My parents wanted to invest in it, too, and I’m so fucking glad that they didn’t.”

When Perfect reprised the show earlier this year for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival (ensuring costs were covered) with new material (namely: Elizabeth Hurley), he found he still liked the work. “It’s been five years since I did it the first time, and I wasn’t embarrassed. That’s saying something. Every other show, I’ve been embarrassed by the material.”

After the latest run of Shane Warne, though, Perfect felt burnt out. When I ask him about his schedule over the past few years, he says the following in one complete sentence, no full-stops, a circular-breathing roll-call of commitments that prevented him from having a holiday for a long time.

“There was Offspring,” he says, “and Offspring rolled into a whole bunch of corporate Christmas stuff, then there was more Offspring, but at the same time I was writing The Beast, and we were workshopping The Beast in the gaps, and doing Perfect Tripod [an album of covers of Australian classics, recorded with musical comedians Tripod] in January, then Shane Warne: The musical was coming up and I was like, ‘I’m going to have a break after Shane Warne: The musical!’ but then I agreed to host the Helpmann Awards, which was a fucking mistake and meant I had to write a whole bunch of stuff, so instead of finishing Shane Warne: The musical and having a break, which is what my brain needed, I was going, ‘I have to do the Helpmanns,’ which was brutally hard work to write.” Perfect’s original plan – to fly to New York after Shane Warne – never happened. “I realised I hadn’t booked any tickets, because I’d been so busy.”

It was winter, so he booked tickets to Byron Bay instead – on his own.

“It’s a very weird thing to do,” he says. “Lucy wanted me to go to New York because it would make her feel better about the fact she was being a mum on her own, that I’d be overseas and be out of sight, out of mind. It was like a family holiday, without the family.” For just over a week, all Perfect did was surf, read books and drink beer. It was exactly what he needed.

At least, that’s how he sees it now. Really, Perfect can’t stay still. It’s appropriate that the man’s trademark is that fin of blond hair. Like a shark, Eddie Perfect will die if he stops moving.

“Christ, it’s hard to not work,” he tweeted while in Byron Bay. “I’m walking the line between relaxation and hating myself.”

Redemption Lane | Nick D’Arcy

St Peters Lutheran College, Queensland’s largest private school, is so vast you actually need to drive between some of its facilities. Before dawn, parents drop off children from Audis and Range Rovers to various stadiums, but the school’s hallowed domain is its heated outdoor 50-metre pool. Members of the Australian Olympic swim team are training here in the lead-up to London. There is Leisel Jones, pumping her legs on an exercise bike. Stephanie Rice is doing crunches, shadowed by a television crew from 60 Minutes. And here, jumping rope furiously, is Nick D’Arcy: Australia’s best butterfly swimmer, a serious gold medal prospect, and the most loathed athlete in the country if magazine and online polls – not to mention Australian Olympic Committee sanctions following last month’s media beat-up over Facebook photos – are any indication.

There are legitimate reasons to dislike D’Arcy. In March 2008, shortly after qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, he knocked out fellow qualifier Simon Cowley, a triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist, at a Sydney bar. Cowley’s injuries were gruesome. X-rays revealed breaks to his jaw, eye socket, cheekbone and nose, as if a metal pipe had been rammed into his face, rather than a human fist. Most of Cowley’s teeth came loose. Continue reading

Hurtling Stone | Meeting Theatre Director Simon Stone

If director–playwright Simon Stone were to write himself into one of his plays, his entrance would read:

SIMON STONE, a scruffy man of about 27, although he looks five years older at least, from years of drinking and various other unseemly pursuits …


Stone stops himself and grins, clarifying the bit about “unseemly pursuits” is only an embellishment, though I may need more convincing. Otherwise, he’s just about nailed it. Australian theatre’s boy wonder is happily unkempt – a cross between handsome lad and friendly dog – and while he does look slightly older than 27, the fact remains: Stone is 27. Widely tipped to take over Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s Sydney Theatre Company gig when they bow out at the end of 2013, Stone was only born in the mid 1980s.

The buzz leaves him the target of both fevered adoration and murmured loathing in Australian theatre circles. For every accolade and award he’s received – most notably, beating STC blockbuster Gross und Klein for Best Director and Best Mainstage Production at the Sydney Theatre Awards in January with his update of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck – there are the productions that underwhelm critics. Tellingly, though, even dissenters – Peter Craven called Stone’s nudity-filled rock-star take on Brecht’s Baal a “gross disappointment”– will make a point of mentioning they’re massive fans of Stone’s other work.

But other people’s opinions are the last thing on Stone’s mind today. It’s just past midday in the rehearsal room at Belvoir Street, the Sydney mainstage theatre where Stone is into his second year as resident director. He’s got an impossible calendar ahead of him, the kind of schedule that will collapse like an undercooked cake if tampered with in any way. On today’s agenda: rehearsals for Stone’s rewrite of Strange Interlude, Eugene O’Neill’s dense sex-and-lies play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928. A week into rehearsals (the show opens on 5 May) and Stone is still writing the play. Not a problem, he assures me.

Belvoir Street’s second-floor warehouse space is drenched in natural light, and Stone is decked in his standard uniform: untucked pale blue Oxford shirt, camel khakis and unwashed hair. If Jesus came back as an inner-city graphic designer, he would look like Stone. On the marked stage is the eternally boy-faced Toby Truslove, delivering lines in his character’s grey bathrobe, and Toby Schmitz, local theatre’s angularly handsome go-to man. But all eyes are on Emily Barclay, the smouldering New Zealand actor whom Stone has cast as Nina Leeds, the protagonist whose sexual decisions could spell catastrophe for her and the men in her orbit.

As Stone watches the actors perform, he walks around them restlessly, like a boxing coach watching his sparring pupils. It’s an old habit. Even when he was a teenager in plays, Stone would come to rehearsals early and stay around late, just to watch the other performers through the bleachers or from side stage. But Stone’s intensity is offset by deep reservoirs of goofiness, too. He laughs constantly. Some find his chuckling, gurgly laugh disconcerting – imagine an old car horn shoved inside a hiccupping kid – and it was only when some of his actors impersonated him in his presence (never a good idea) that Stone became aware of how he sounded. (“Unhinged” is the word he uses.) It was wounding.

“Initially, when I saw those responses, I was really self-conscious, like, ‘Oh, I must look like such a buffoon, such an idiot.’ Then I realised, that’s my childlike fascination. I’m never really going to be able to change it.”

Stone’s directions oscillate between fatherly (“Nice and loud”; “Sit up straight”), frenetic (“Faster!”; “Explode into ridiculously over-the-top snake oil salesman!”) and intuitive (“Move away; there’s a revulsion there”). At one point, Stone asks lanky actor Mitchell Butel to give a more masculine delivery. “Can I see what that would sound like,” he says, “if you said all of that through your balls?”

When the cast moves on to a nude scene, a small upturned table acts as a shower cubicle. As Barclay climbs into it, Stone reminds her, “He can see your entire body now.” Barclay makes a face: “Yeah, and so can the whole audience!” This will be her first onstage nude scene, and she’s nervous. To alleviate the tension, Stone and Barclay play-fight.

“He’s a genuine theatre rat,” Schmitz tells me later. “His rehearsals include a large amount of sitting around swapping anecdotes and experiences, long after any other directors I’ve worked with would have their actors up on the floor. It happens every day.” Schmitz adds it isn’t about slacking off. “It’s a genuine need to compare and contrast our lives. He has a need to tell us about his private life, and for us to divulge ours, because it’s going to illuminate the human condition. If he’s boisterous, he’s also very sensitive and aware, you can’t get away with whispering something without him butting in with a ‘What did you just say?’ and a big grin. Whether whatever you said is puerile or intelligent, he’s interested. He’s a tornado of interest.”

“He much prefers jumping to taking small cautious steps,” Truslove adds. “It’s a bit like being strapped to a rocket.” It helps that almost everyone here is young. The median age in the room today is 27. Youth is Belvoir Street’s trademark right now, and that includes its artistic director, general manager, associate director, associate producer and literary manager. When Strange Interlude’s actors take a break, the atmosphere is reminiscent of a break between uni lectures. Schmitz plays his Nintendo DS, while conversation among the others stretches to the whys of crotchless undies and how often women should change bras. Simon Stone’s world is not one of quiet Toblerones and matinee ladies.


The day after rehearsal, Stone meets me for lunch in Surry Hills. It’s only when you’re sitting really close to Stone that you notice his eyes, the kind of pale baby blue you don’t really see aside from newborn infants’. Stone’s face is a rare oddity: it actually looks younger the closer you get to it.

He’s the youngest of three kids and the only boy. Among Stone’s family, people fondly tell the story of how his father discovered baby Simon was on his way. It was Canberra in the 1980s and Stuart Stone, tasked with picking up his wife Eleanor’s pregnancy test results, had elder daughter Brangwen strapped to his back and baby Meredith on his front. Dressed in overalls, he walked out of the clinic in a daze with the positive test results, before realising he hadn’t paid for them. When he walked back in to apologise, the receptionist took one look at him and told him to forget about payment.

Simon Stone was born in Basel, a Swiss city known for producing pharmaceuticals, where Eleanor and Stuart had both been contracted to work as research scientists. After six years of raising Swiss–German speaking children, the Stones moved to England where Stuart worked in the research department at the University of Cambridge. Until then, English had been a vaguely alien language used only between Stone’s parents at home, and young Simon had to work out how to speak it in the outside world. Neither Eleanor nor Stuart were artists, but elder sister Brangwen – obsessed with art – would organise outings to galleries and the opera for the whole family.

It’s worth noting that both Strange Interlude and The Wild Duck deal with questions of paternity and inherited illness. There may be a reason for that. When Stuart Stone was 21, well before Simon was born, doctors diagnosed him with a congenital condition that caused him to retain dangerous amounts of cholesterol. It was unlikely Stuart would live past 30. Stuart Stone never told his children about the inheritable condition, but emphasised a healthy diet and robust exercise regimen. Simon’s childhood was all about good eating, all-day skiing sessions, long walks and swimming training.

Simon Stone was 12 when his father – still one of the healthiest, fittest men Stone has known – died at 45. They had been swimming at the local pool, back in Australia, when his father had a heart attack. “We had a vague sense that there was a reason we had to eat and exercise a certain way,” Stone says. “But I don’t think you tell your children there’s a chance they might prematurely lose their father. It’s probably better that I didn’t know. It would have been very difficult for him. The older we got, the more he would have become invested in seeing the rest of our lives unfold. I imagine it would have become harder and harder.”

After his father died, Stone worried he wasn’t grieving properly. He was unsure how to act and felt bad about it. Instead, for three or four years, Stone dreamed every night of talking to his father. “We held each other for long periods of time, walked around the various places that I’d grown up with him,” he says. “We used to hang out in our house in England a lot together, and in the garden where we used to do gardening. I was really homesick for Cambridge as a place, but also as the last place that we had the predictability of a solid relationship together.”

When Stone was 15, he decided he wanted to be an actor. He’d been in several extracurricular school plays already at Melbourne Grammar – Oswald in King Lear; Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost; Antony in Antony and Cleopatra – before winning a scholarship to study at St Martins Theatre. He wrote letters to agents, who wrote back offering to put him on their books. The agency Stone decided on was the only one who asked him to audition. Even at that age, Stone felt the audition request was a good sign: it showed they exercised quality control. His first profile shots – for which his mother paid $150 – featured Stone with spiky hair and orthodontic braces.

By the time Stone enrolled in the Victorian College of the Arts drama course, he had already done some television – John Safran’s Music Jamboree and playing Shane Bourne’s son on MDA – but his confidence waned in exercises where students had to “be the sea” or “be the colour red”. In his final year, he would leave for weeks at a time, acting in the films Jindabyneand Kokoda. Classmates gossiped and griped. It wasn’t just because Stone was breaking university rules (curiously, students weren’t allowed to work on films while studying), but also because of the readiness with which screen roles were lobbed his way. Even now, though his focus is directing and writing theatre, Stone will sometimes take a screen role. “I think people find my relationship to acting irritating,” he says. “Even friends of mine who I direct – actors who I work with – find it irritating when I go ‘Look, I’m just going to do this film. It’s not really the most amazing thing, but—’ And people are like, ‘You motherfucker.’”

Still, Stone jokes that in his family – one that values academia – he is actually the underachiever. Both his sisters have PhDs. Brangwen studied at Yale and is a doctor in German literature; Meredith has a doctorate in psychiatry. It is possible, Stone says, that their father’s death gave them a sense of urgency to achieve things while young. “Initially, my measuring stick for how long my life was going to be came from the man who died at the age of 45,” he says. Even now, Stone medicates every day to keep his own cholesterol down. Initially at least, he concedes his father’s death probably propelled him to accelerate his career. “Now that kind of urgency is just a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he says. “The more urgent I’ve become, the more I’ve got used to living at that pace. I don’t think it’s urgency anymore. It’s just the way I’ve learnt to live my life.” When asked whether his health is okay now, Stone thinks. “Theoretically I should be able to live to a significant age,” he says. “But anything’s possible.”


On the night Strange Interlude opens, Stone will throw up backstage. He has vomited on the opening night of every play he has ever directed. He explains it doesn’t get any easier with time. One thing that doesn’t intimidate him is his schedule. While writing and directing Strange Interlude, he has also been casting Belvoir Street’s Death of a Salesman at night (he is directing), which begins rehearsals three days after Strange Interlude’s rehearsals end. AfterSalesman is the STC stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face, co-written with Andrew Upton, which Stone will also direct. Schedules between Salesman and Face to Face are so close that they actually overlap, giving Stone what he calls “a minus three-day break”. Then it’s to Norway for a reprise of The Wild Duck – Stone’s first overseas production – with only two weeks to rehearse two new actors, while simultaneously working on aWild Duck film adaptation for producer Jan Chapman. After he leads me through this horror of dates, Stone says something appalling.

“I’m actually quite lazy,” he says, shrugging.

I ask how, exactly, he defines laziness.

“Every now and then, I have to write another act, but I sit down and I just watch six hours of television instead.”

Back at rehearsals, the young actor Eloise Mignon has come to watch Stone direct Barclay, Truslove, Schmitz and Butel. She is performing across the road in Belvoir Street’s season of the sexually explicit play Every Breath. Mignon played a doomed teenager in The Wild Duck, a performance so vulnerable it made many in the audience cry. When working on that play, Stone says he almost felt Ibsen had used a girl’s suicide as the full stop to an ideological argument. For Stone, a young person’s suicide had to be the beating heart of the play. “A girl’s suicide is the most important subject matter,” he says. “You don’t get to use it callously. You do not get to usesomething that confoundingly, confusingly tragic.”

“It’s so sad,” says Mignon, after watching a poignant exchange between Truslove’s and Barclay’s characters. She is smiling through wet eyes. Like a big brother, Stone happily calls out and says if Mignon thinks this is sad, real life is going to be a series of awfulness and disappointments. The scene has ended, but Mignon grins and calls out, “More.” Stone tells her, “I haven’t written any more.” It’s true. Even boy geniuses have homework to do.

Same-sex Union: Sydney’s Champion Gay Rugby Team

Seven pm and the Bondi sun is still caressing surfers, bikini girls and topless males pulling up from their cliff-top runs. Near the lifeguard tower, 30 men have gathered for their twice-weekly rugby training. The men have nicknames suited to the game, or prison – Jay-Z, Killer, Jumbo, Fezbot, Big Girl – and range in age from 18 to 50-plus. Nearly all of them are gay.

Don’t act so surprised. Any gay man will tell you that out of all the ball sports, rugby is particularly laden with homoerotic innuendo. It’s not just the shorts. There’s the language, too: ‘hookers’, ‘tackle’ and ‘back line’. Men constantly ‘go down’. When players lock shoulders for a scrum, they position their butts at provocative angles before man-handling each other like Greco-Roman wrestlers. One member of this rugby team – sidelined because of a wrist injury – tells me that whenever he got into this position in high school, he’d have to think hard of something soft. Continue reading

Gourmet Gore: Our Animal Instincts for Eating Meat

Here is how you cook a pig’s uterus. First, visit your local abattoir’s Vietnamese section, where they will happily take requests for ‘special offal’ – which includes intestines, gall bladders, warm blood and reproductive organs. Sows’ uteri come blanched, with a similar colour and texture to tripe: creamy and soft but with a cartilagey bite. Braise them in pork stock, along with smoked ham bones, onions, garlic and wine. Simmer on low heat for two-and-a-half hours, add peas and butter, and serve with jus. The uteri should now have the texture of squid, with a slight crunch.

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Dancing in the Dark

From the outside, the Snoezelen Room at the Gold Coast’s Mudgeeraba Special School (MSS) doesn’t look like much. The room’s padlocked entrance is almost creepy, resembling a fire exit that’s been bolted up. As she fiddles with the large master locks, head of curriculum Nicole Belous explains this actually used to be a garage. I think to myself that if I were a kid being led into this room, I’d probably be freaking out right now.

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Tuckshop Duty

Someone should make a reality TV show called Tuckshop Ladies. The drama would be explosive. Elimination episodes would take place at Parents &Citizens’ Association (P & C) meetings, where parents and tuckshop convenors would battle it out in the style of the Jerry Springer Show. In one episode, the entire tuckshop staff would be made redundant; in another, an irate parent would hurl abuse at the new tuckshop convenor for taking pies off the menu. The stakes would be high – some tuckshops have annual profit margins of $500,000. There would be tears, award ceremonies and, of course, cooking.

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Bush Love

In retrospect, we had been adequately warned. Days before we arrived at Wooroolin’s Peanut Pullers and Backfatters Ball — an annual Bachelor & Spinsters’ event in rural Queensland — I’d spoken to one of its organisers over the phone. “B&S balls used to be a big thing in rural areas,” Jodie Butcher told me, “so all the single farmers and farmer’s daughters could meet someone. It was a proper sit-down meal in a hall, then you’d have a dance.” When asked exactly how B&S balls had changed, Jodie laughed. “Over time,” she said, “I guess it’s gotten a little bit … feral.”

As such, the invitation for Backfatters featured a sketchy illustration of a giant peanut happily having sex with a pig up the rear. I understood where the committee had gotten ‘peanut-pullers’ from: Wooroolin, a township with a population of roughly 200 people, lies just outside of Kingaroy, and the entire region is known as Australia’s peanut farming capital. ‘Back-fatter’, I discovered, refers to the local piggeries. Jodie told me that a sow at the end of her breeding cycle will become so enormous that locals call them backfatters: “It’s the committee taking the piss — that all we’ve got out here are peanut pullers and backfatters.”

Supermarket Sweep

It’s 4.20 am in Kingston, 30 minutes out of Brisbane, and already the place is a hive of human activity. In the darkness, people haul crates out of a huge delivery truck – the words “Tribe of Judah Care Services” printed on its side – and into a warehouse. A muscular Pacific Islander man reverses a packed forklift through the gate, when a bikie named Terry – tattoos, goatee, belly – rushes out to direct him. “Over here, Pete!” he hollers, gesturing like an airport tarmac guide.

In a few hours, 4000 to 5000 people from all over the Logan shire – an area that houses nearly 200 ethnic groups – will be lining up outside to receive bags of free groceries: 70 tonnes in total. The queue will be so long, it’ll stretch beyond the oval-sized car park and into the streets. Today is Free Food Friday, an event that The Tribe of Judah – an unlikely mélange of Christian church, Harley motorcycle gang and charity organisation – holds several times per year.

Dead, Wrapped in Cardboard

People might flock to the Gold Coast to feel alive, but it is increasingly also a destination for the dead. Drive inland, away from the scorching beaches, breakneck theme parks and thumping nightclubs, and you’ll eventually hit the quiet, bushy hinterland that locals affectionately call “the green behind the gold”. One of the suburbs here is Mudgeeraba, a place that is becoming widely known for its cemetery.

Gail Webb, a softly spoken funeral director from A Gentle Touch Funerals, leads me through the company’s cemetery, which ranges over nine hectares. “Quite beautiful, isn’t it?” she says as we walk among the headstones. Here, the burial ground is divided into two sections: a clippered-lawn cemetery to our left, with flat plaques in tidy, graph-like rows, and a monumental cemetery to our right, where a spectacular convergence of money and grief has taken place. Some of the memorial shrines are so large that they double as stone benches.