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Interview with John Doyle



John Doyle is an actor, comedian and screenwriter, best known as ‘Rampaging Roy Slaven’ of Roy and HG fame ( This Sporting Life, Club Buggery, The Dream, The Dream in Athens).

As a screenwriter, John’s credits include the acclaimed mini-series Changi and Marking Time, as well as the documentary series Two Men in a Tinnie and Two Men in the Top End (written with Michael Cordell), in which he sets out to explore the Australian outback with biologist Tim Flannery.


My first theatre experience was…  in my first year of High School a new Principal arrived—Brother Josephus Garrity and he had us for one period of English a week and he loved plays. He had us write plays and two of mine he recorded on a tape recorder. In the same year my brother started going out with a girl who was an amateur actress with the local theatre group and I went along and saw her in The Boyfriend. As a result of these two events I have had an interest in plays and performance ever since.

If I was a character in a play I’d be...  sadly, a bit of a combination of Halvard Solness from Ibsen’s Master Builder and George from Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I suspect.

I love theatre because…  when it’s on song, it’s a melody like no other.

I hate theatre when…  it’s boring.

My best moment working in the theatre was…  being part of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company and workshopping John O’Donoghue’s play Essington Lewis: I Am Work with Aarne Neeme as director/dramaturg.

The worst thing to happen to me in the theatre was…  probably when we were performing Alex Buzo’s play Big River in Newcastle. On one occasion a group of Korean sailors wandered onto the stage at the beginning of the second act in the mistaken belief that The Playhouse was a brothel. Or, with the same company giving a Sunday matinee crowd of four the option of ‘returning for another performance when the bus strike is over ... Or we could do the show now.’ They opted to see the show now. Two of the four in the house were the director’s pre-teenage daughters.

I write plays because…  well, one play at this stage. Because I wanted to join in the discourse about how history is recorded, but also to use actors and acting as the bedrock upon which to build the work—I wanted to write roles actors would kill for.

The most important thing I’ve ever done was…  go back to University as a mature age student and do four years of Drama.

The best line that never made it into one of my plays is…

SHE: Okay. So why is the stadium so empty? It’s ‘the greatest game of all.’

HE thinks for a moment.

HE: I’d like to think the empty seats are bought seats. Bought by the League. To house the souls of deceased players.

My latest play was inspired by…  being privy to loud conversations from the bedroom of a house across the street.

The role of theatre in 21st-century Australia is…  I’m not sure. But it must energise writers, energise performers and most importantly, energise an audience. Immediacy is its strength.

When I hand over a script to a director I’m… t he only time I have done it I was very pleased to do so, to have another hand on the tiller.

My last big laugh was about…  it is often my habit to write my girl a song. Sometimes a new one each day. Very early in the morning. Over the years I have begun to specialise in exceptionally annoying melody and lyrics. Yesterday I came up with a cracker—short, repetitive, to the point and with a melody that could pierce steel. Sadly, today I have forgotten it. And while she can remember it [so she reckons], she will not remind me of it. Such was its power.

My last big whinge was about…  the inability of the Federal Government to force the states to accept a central and neutral Water Authority to restore the health of the Darling- Murray River systems.

The best productions I’ve ever seen were…  In the Belly of the Beast – Chicago Theatre Company. I Am My Own Wife – imported by the STC. The Madness of King George II – National Theatre.

My greatest theatre hero/heroine is…  Falstaff. Had the great pleasure of being in a production with Don Barker playing the role. He was extraordinary. And Laura Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie—I saw Kerry Walker do it years ago—she was superb.

My next big project is…  uncertain. I am buried in a film about role models.

And very personal: When I heard that a species of Kangaroo Paw had been named ‘Rampaging Roy Slaven’ I thought…  What a great idea. It was presented to me on my fortieth birthday by its creator, Angus Stewart, and together we have donated our proceeds from its sale to Aspect—or the early intervention program for Autistic children. I’ve been trialling it in the back yard for years—it’s the greatest paw in existence—impossible to kill no matter how stern or cruel the care.

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