Master of drama goes up on stage

Real life can be stranger than fiction, as Australian playwright and screenwriter Andrew Bovell has found.

The original scriptwriter for popular films such as Lantana, Blessed and Strictly Ballroom – and mastermind behind the stage adaptation of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and other theatre successes – will take to the stage himself at Flinders University today to receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters.

“I was very honoured to be contacted by the University to receive the award,” says Dr Bovell, ahead of his citation for the Award of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) at Flinders University’s graduation ceremony.

“After 20 years, I feel at home in Adelaide. It’s a great place to live and develop collaborative relationships in the creative arts community. I’ve been very fortunate to introduce my work here before it goes interstate or overseas.”

Andrew Bovell has just returned from Europe, where his second co-production in Spain is about to open after success with a Spanish translation of When The Rain Stops Falling.

Next the 55-year-old, who lives at Willunga south of Adelaide, will head to Long Island on America’s East Coast to start work on a new screenplay adaptation of A Speck in The Sea, based on the real-life adventures of fisherman John Aldridge.

As one of Australia’s finest writers, with an arts degree from the University of WA Dramatic Arts and diploma from the Victorian College of the Arts, he also will address the annual Wal Cherry Lecture (27 September) at 5-7pm at the Flinders University Tavern.

A passionate advocate for Australian writing and Australian stories, the public lecture will discuss an early work, Holy Day, a play that premiered in Adelaide in 2001 under the direction of Flinders Drama Centre’s current director Rosalba Clemente.

Set in on the ‘white frontier’ in colonial Australia, the Holy Day ‘Revisited’  lecture is a timely discussion about the place and role of a dramatist or written interpretation of history.

The plot description on the original program cover sets the scene: ‘A desert, A murder. A missing child. The answer is there in black and white.’

The cover of the 2001 State Theatre Company of SA premiere of Holy Day, directed by Rosalba Clemente, who also was dramaturg on the production with Chris Drummond and Louise Gough. Photo Tracy Schramm

Themes in the play covered some of the leading issues facing Australia, from the violence and legacy of colonisation to the violence perpetrated by men against women.

As well as the Sydney Theatre Company’s Patrick White Playwrights Fellowship for established dramatists, Dr Bovell’s other award-winning works for the stage include:

  • Things I Know to be True, a co-production between State Theatre Company of South Australia and Frantic Assembly in the UK
  • When the Rains Stops Falling, which premiered in Adelaide before being produced throughout the UK, America and Europe, and being named “best new play of the year” by Time magazine
  • the landmark adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River, which wowed audiences and critics alike at the 2017 Adelaide Festival of the Arts.

In 2015 he was the first Australian screenwriter to be invited to deliver the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the British Film Industry International Screenwriting Lecture. His recent film A Most Wanted Man was internationally acclaimed, and follows his work on Head On (with Ana Kokkinos and Mira Robinson), Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness and the forthcoming drama Stoner.

His television work includes The Legend of Dogwoman, Piccolo Mondo, Lust (for the Seven Deadly Sins series on ABC).

The annual Wal Cherry Lecture is named for Flinders University foundation professor of drama, the late Wal Cherry. 

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Alumni College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences