Australian Writer and Actor, Nakkiah Lui, wrote this play in nine months, as she believed the timing for her message was for right now. It is indeed, but perhaps it came out slightly underdone.

How to Rule the World is a clever idea of how some young passionate people can influence the running of the country. The general premise is great – three smart, savvy millennials decide to put a patsy in the senate. They decide this person must be open to direction, able to learn lines, be good looking (but not too good looking) – then realise they need an actor. They audition white male actors (white males – they are the only ones who get elected, they say). They make sure their successful actor has no previous indiscretions, family, friends, political interest or ideas, and is a little bit dishonest.

Image via Michelle Lim Davidson, Anthony Taufa and Nakkiah Lui in How to Rule the World.
Photo © Prudence Upton

There are some truly great scenes – one is the auditioning process. Gareth Jones (a Belvoir regular) shows wonderful comic flair as he auditions as several different characters. He plays several other characters through the play – each as good as the next.

Another memorable scene is the funeral of a male politician’s gay lover (collateral damage in the action towards the new senator’s election). As well as some fine acting, the scene features one of the play’s musical highlights. Paul Mac and Steve Francis are composer and sound designers, and their work is a great contemporary addition.

The scene where patsy Tommy Ryan meets the PM for the first time is one of the very best. It’s a clever political seduction where the PM knows how to draw in his prey.  Tommy Ryan (Hamish Michael), is truly a standout and when foiling with Rhys Muldoon as the PM (Rhys is so comfortable in a role he’s clearly played before), the chemistry is brilliant.

As the three millennials – an Asian, an Aboriginal and an Islander – walk into a bar, it’s not a joke, just commentary. In these roles are Michelle Lim Davidson, Nakkiah Lui, and Anthony Taufa. The latter is the strongest link – his comedic timing is perfectly precise.

Nakkiah Lui, Michelle Lim Davidson and Anthony Taufa in How to Rule the World.
Photo © Prudence Upton

This is a social commentary in the same broad way as David Williamson’s razor social commentaries on our society – but younger. The drug-taking millennials, the different forms of racism we display and hide, politics today, sexual mores – it’s all there. Some is more sophisticatedly conveyed than others. The comments on racism both revere and otherwise convey the tensions between the left – when they get so caught up in their causes that they lose sight of the value of banding together for a common cause. Lui here is also somewhat caught up in an excess of cause – white racism, Asian racism, Aboriginal racism, Islander racism, stereotypes, disadvantaged and disempowered, Australia’s past and Australia’s future – by the end it’s a jumble of disapproval and censure of so many things we aren’t sure where we stand as an audience. Luckily, the journey is fun – and the laughs are there.

The play could have left behind the preaching and the endless gratuitous poo references – about 30 mins – and been very much the better for it. Saying that, I think Lui has done a good job, as has Director Paige Rattray.

Lui says she hopes “the play creates space for people to feel like they are part of a community, which ultimately is why theatre is so special – you sit in a room with strangers and go on a journey with them, experiencing a whole array of emotions together, it’s not a solitary experience.” She says she believes the play is about hope and that we can create it.

As a spotlight onto the rabid right and the right wing politicians that have been gaining momentum worldwide, Lui does a good, clever job. The PM and the politicians are well fashioned and very real. It’s the three millennials who can’t decide on the message or the means by which it is conveyed.  We are Australians, and we don’t like to be hit over the head and held hostage until we’ve conceded to the message. We like humour, and those scenes are very well appreciated by the audience.

Lui is an exciting new playwright and her plays are current and dynamic, but I believe over a longer prep period with harsher script readers, this could have been much better and certainly somewhat shorter.

Feature image: Nakkiah Lui, Hamish Michael, Anthony Taufa, Vanessa Downing and Michelle Lim Davidson in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of How to Rule the World © Prudence Upton