Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio, Melbourne, Australia

22/02/2012 - 04/04/2012

Production Details

War wounds

A compelling, tightly-woven and thrilling exploration of a family, their hidden secrets and the repercussions of war, The Seed opens Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 8pm at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.

This semi-autobiographical play, written by West Australian playwright Kate Mulvany, stars Max Gillies, Sara Gleeson and Tony Martin. As an acclaimed writer and actor, this is the first time that Mulvany has not played the central character, Rose, in a professional production. As Mulvany says, ‘I’m really interested to see what Sara does.’

‘My first impression of The Seed was that here was a writer writing absolutely hot. She knows the territory she’s writing about, because it comes out of her experience. It’s an immigrant story, a father-daughter story, a father-son story. And she skillfully mixes these elements within a very delicate three-act structure. The Seed is pristine writing, very assured,’ said Aidan Fennessy, a member of MTC’s Season 2012 Programming Team.

It’s been thirty years between visits. Still traumatized Vietnam War veteran, Danny Maloney is understandably nervous about reuniting with his irascible ex-IRA father Brian in the Nottingham house he grew up in. Danny’s daughter Rose is a writer and is looking forward to recording the reunion and meeting her grandfather for the first time. But it doesn’t take long to sour, as the buried secrets of the Maloney family bubble to the surface.

When talking about the inception of the play, Kate Mulvany said, ‘Suddenly I was a 30 year-old child, sitting at the feet of my various storytellers with eyes wide, mouth agape, listening to tales and emotions and histories never before shared. The only problem was that, in order to tell their stories, I had to tell mine.’

Kate Mulvany is a BA graduate from Curtin University. As a writer, her plays include Father O Friendly, Blood & Bones (winner of Naked Theatre Company’s Write Now competition), Story Time, Derek Drives a Datsun, Vaseline Lollies, Naked Ambition, The Musical Somewhere (co-written with Tim Minchin) and The Embalmer! The Musical (co-written with Pip Banson).

Mulvany’s play The Danger Age was shortlisted for the 2004 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and she was the winner of the 2004 Philip Parsons Young Playwrights’ Award, from which The Seed was commissioned. The Seed won the Best Independent Production award and was nominated for Best New Australian Work in the 2007 Sydney Theatre Awards.

Since participating in the 2010 Cybec Readings as part of MTC’s Emerging Artists Development Program, Anne-Louise Sarks now makes her MTC directing debut with The Seed. Currently she is Artistic Director of the acclaimed independent theatre company, The Hayloft Project and has also been Director in Residence at Malthouse Theatre and Associate Artist at Belvoir.

‘[A] terrific play of family war, lies and intergenerational cause and effect’ Sydney Morning Herald

‘extraordinarily powerful and moving. This is an important work that deserves a long life.’ The Australian

‘a gripping and candid story about finding new life amongst the rubble of old wars’ WA Today

The Seed
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Season Dates
17 February to 4 April 2012
Opening Night Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 8pm
Tickets from $56 (Under 30s just $33)
Booking Details The MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or; Arts Centre Melbourne 1300 182 183 or
Mini subscriptions 3-6 play packages start from as little as $186; (Under 30s from $87) 

Max Gillies:  Brian
Sara Gleeson:  Rose
Tony Martin:  Danny

Set and Costume Designer:  Christina Smith
Lighting Designer:  Matt Scott
Composer/Sound Designer:  Jethro Woodward  

A young woman's perspective on generations of male violence

Review by John Smythe 06th Apr 2012

The Seed is one of five Australian plays the Melbourne Theatre Company is producing in its Main Season this year (along with five from the UK, including Queen Lear, and two from the USA). Four of the five plays in its Studio Season are Australian (the other being translated from German). “Just sayin’,” as they say.

The Irish Catholic diaspora looms large in Australian history, spreading from to the earliest influx of forced settlers (a.k.a. convicts) to ‘free settlers’ seeking a better life in the early 19th century. The 1960s resurgence of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, spreading into hated England, sparked more escapes to ‘The Lucky Country’.

Although the particulars of Kate Mulvaney’s play, written on commission, are largely autobiographical – except she does note her three onstage characters are nevertheless drawn from a number of sources – Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes are also invoked in what finally reveals itself as a powerful critique of the nature of sectarian-cum-civil warfare. Suffice to say she proves how fanatics and fantasists may have much in common.

Having married a good Catholic Englishwoman (now deceased), devout IRA-aligned dissident Brian Maloney (Max Gillies) lives alone in Nottingham, near Sherwood Forest, where two of his three ‘activist’ sons also reside. Mysterious stacks of sealed cardboard cartons adorn his home. His birthday is the 5th of November: celebrated for the day Guy Fawkes conspired to blow up the British houses of parliament. In this house, however, the ‘Guy’ effigy is an honoured guest.

The trouble Brian’s third son, Danny (Tony Martin), got into with the law from an early age is evoked as a prologue to the play. It later transpires that it was after an incident at the local pub that he escaped to Australia, as a teenaged ‘ten pound Pom’, only to be conscripted at 20 and sent to fight in Vietnam, where he was exposed to the carcinogenic chemical defoliant Agent Orange. (Mulvany’s father was conscripted, despite just being a permanent resident, and was never awarded Australian citizenship, presumably because of the family associations with the IRA he choose to break away from.)

Danny’s one trip back to Nottingham, before this one, resulted in the conception of the only child he and his Australian wife Glenys managed to bring full term. Rose (Sara Gleeson), a writer, has survived the kidney cancer she was born with and is now 30. In fact today – ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ – is her 30th birthday, and she and her father have come to share it with her Granddad (or “Grandda!!” as the running gag goes), who is turning 80.

The trinity of dissidents – Robin Hood, Guy Fawkes and Brian Maloney – is offset, then, by a compliant conscriptee who has paid dearly for choosing to fight for ‘the Crown’ instead of against it, as has his wife and, even more so, his daughter. Like many of his peers, not to mention his father, Danny is given to angry outbursts, and anger also seethes with the apparently mature and relatively ‘together’ Rose.

In designer Christina Smith’s wide-open set, lit by Matt Scott, and with a splendid soundscape by Jethro Woodward (the fireworks noises are especially evocative), director Anne-Louise Sarks emphasises the play’s meta-theatricality dimensions to the detriment, initially, of our subjective engagement.

It is hard to empathise with the characters in the play’s first half. Much of the action seems contrived to establish the whys and wherefores – which, however, will pay off handsomely in the final quarter – because not enough attention is paid to drawing us into the sub-textual undercurrents that must surely be tugging at the emotions of all three generations.

Given the role of narrator, to which she brings a nice smiling and curiously dispassionate demeanour, Sara Gleeson’s Rose seems more detached from the present action than she needs to be. Only when she confides her true feelings towards healthily pregnant women and the men who made them so, do we begin to get her true measure. But when the anger-fertilised seed of dissidence – or is it outright criminality now? – sprouts within her, Sarks sets Rose with her back to the audience,  when we most want to read her state of mind and emotions.

Tony Martin navigates Danny’s troubled and sometimes volatile state with emotional integrity. It’s unfortunate he is not allowed to be present in the crayfishing sequences, which Rose narrates in episodic fashion, as this might have allowed us to share in the closeness of their relationship. His explosive expose of the contents of the boxes is a superbly rendered high point.

Max Gillies’ Brian presents as a tin-pot self-styled god, filtered, we must presume, through Rose’s eyes. His Irish blarney and impeccable timing produce many a releasing laugh as the nature of his activism unfolds and finally unravels. It is a role that raises many credibility questions which pay off with a tragic-comic impact that rewards our sometimes tested trust.

What finally sets The Seed apart from other revisitings of Vietnam Vets and The Troubles is the perspective on generations of male violence brought by a young woman whose lack of seed is directly attributable to the sins of – or perpetrated against – the fathers: hers, his and so on, back through history. The moment when Rose has the opportunity to re-activate the cycle or break it makes for powerful theatre.


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