7 Min Read

Unravelling Aussie Traditions and Family Politics: Q&A with the creators of We’ll Always Have Bali

This July you’re invited to the Wainwright’s annual Christmas dinner, in the new play We’ll Always Have Bali written by Lily Baitup and directed by Riley Jackson. This family gathering is set to see old tensions brought to the surface, as we watch an intergenerational cast navigate relatable family politics and Australian traditions. Ahead of the show’s opening on July 11 at The Blue Room Theatre, Magazine 6000 sent a series of questions to Lily and Riley, in the rehearsal room, to catch up on the family gossip and hear how this show came to life.

Riley, you developed the concept for this show while completing a research project at WAAPA, tell us about the project and when it became the inspiration for this play?

RJ (Riley Jackson): Some form of an idea for this show has existed since probably 2016, it was largely in reaction to a growth in populism seen around the globe, Trump’s election, Brexit, and Marine Le Pen’s huge popularity in France. It started with a focus on how these populist movements often use our sense of nostalgia to influence us and remind us of what the ‘good old days’ were like.

From there, I knew it had to be something wholly Australian, something which any person who has even spent a moment growing up here would relate too. So, I worked with our amazing writer Lily Baitup to create this perfect archetypal family unit that would be a unique experience but somehow so familiar.

Lily, how did you come on board with Riley’s idea/project and end up in the writer’s seat?

LB (Lily Baitup): Riley and I had both recently completed the Bachelor or Performing Arts when they approached me with a skeleton concept for a show about nostalgia and the rise of popularism in politics. I’d written a number of short plays and was developing my writing practice, so I was keen to come on board and tackle my first full length script. Riley’s original concept gave me a lot of freedom when it came to plotting out the story I wanted to tell. The idea of a family dinner acting as a microcosm for the Australian political landscape excited us both, so I developed an initial excerpt that would later become We’ll Always Have Bali.

Director Riley Jackson (left) and Lily Baitup (right)

What was your collaboration process like? What are some of the inspirations you’ve drawn on when creating this story?

RJ: Lily and I have been working on this script for the better part of two years, finding these characters and really finding what we wanted to talk about and say. The latter half of 2022 she did an amazing job in hiding away at her desk and smashing out this amazing 70 minute festival of expression of this family. With this stunning script I started working with our designers Will and Amber to see how we can construct this story on stage and really sell the world we are building. Combining all of this together, we worked on finding a great cast of actors who have all amazingly stepped up to the plate. I always love working with actors in a very collaborative sense, whilst we had a finished script and working on set, we still found so much life and flexibility to create a show that was theirs as well as Lily’s. I find an experience without education useless, and this has proven to be one of the most enlightening couple years of my life bringing this tiny idea on the back storages of my mind onto the script and onto stage.

Tell us about the different characters?

LB: Family dinners were a mainstay of my childhood, and I always loved the conversational rabbit holes we fell into on a nightly basis. While I’m lucky enough to have a family who share a lot of my views and values, so major conflict was rare, I’ve always been fascinated by family dynamics and how they can reflect the wider world. Grandmother Irene is a set in her ways and struggles to keep up with a world that seems determined to leave her behind. Parents Belinda and Red are traditional but more actively averse to change and cling onto the ’good old days’ for their own reasons. Charlie, the eldest daughter, is striving towards the future, writing off those who can’t get with the times with hostility or dismissiveness. Georgia, the youngest, is undecided – a fence sitter who resists taking a stance on anything that might divide her family.

I’ve deliberately made very few references to specific political parties or policies, because I didn’t want it to be immediately obvious who I’m alluding to! Without spoiling anything, Red’s actions and fundamental beliefs definitely have some shades of Liberal frontbenchers of the past, but I wanted to combine this with a personality that was ‘down to earth’ and stereotypical of an Aussie ‘bloke’. I wanted him to feel familiar to the audience, like the exasperating dad, uncle or grandpa who seems to take joy in dropping land mines into the middle of otherwise agreeable conversations.

The cast of We’ll Always Have Bali. Photography by Andrea Lim.

The show is set to draw on some uniquely “aussie” experiences and relatable family dynamics, how do you think audiences will respond to seeing depictions of their own families and traditions on stage?

LB: I definitely drew on a lot of my own experiences growing up in Australia to set the scene. My dad migrated from the UK before I was born, which oddly made him more determined than ever to live the Australian suburban dream of a 4 x 2 on a suburban block, a pile of mulch on the kerb, and Christmas in July! I hope that audiences will make their own connections to the setting, good and bad, as the story plays out. Nostalgia can affect people in many different ways and We’ll Always Have Bali is a mixing pot of conflicting feelings, the power of the senses, and how nostalgia can be used to manipulate our memories.

Who have you got working on this show with you? Tell us about your team of cast and creatives?

RJ: We have an amazing crew of people bringing this iconic family to life, of course the absolutely amazing work from our writer Lily who I studied alongside with at WAAPA and always admired her writing and how it captured such an amazing range of human experiences. William Gammel is working with us on set and has gone above and beyond in his dedication to his craft, I couldn’t be more excited at how immersive this experience is going to be for the audience. Amber Lorenzi is bringing an amazing realism to the lighting which will bring you completely into this world and has worked beautifully with our set to bring something so powerful and astounding.

The cast has also done such a beautiful job with this script and has made these characters so real and wonderful. Kim Parkhill, playing the kind but assertive mother, Josh Crane, our patriarch of the family with a deep ambition, Amber Gilmour, the inspired but maybe misguided political science major, Emma Kirby, the grandmother of the family and always has an eye for what’s really going on, and Phoebe Eames, the naïve but strong headed youngest kid. Phoebe has also done an amazing job bringing this wonderful show to life on our socials and advertising.

Who should come and see We’ll Always Have Bali?!

RJ: Everyone, and I really mean that. We have constructed a story and a family so deeply relatable. We have focused on the white suburban nuclear family but the expert script writing and the wonderful work from the actors have made something so intensely familiar to people of any cultural background.

You can reserve your spot at the table of this family dinner from the 11-29th of July at The Blue Room Theatre.