Artistic Director Malcolm Blaylock’s production of Stephen Sewell’s Traitors met with hostility from both audiences and critics. Like Rick Billinghurst before him, Blaylock often suffered at the hands of Courier-Mail theatre critic David Rowbotham for his choice of plays, but in this case Rowbotham was joined by audience members who walked out on opening night in response to an explicit torture scene.
In retrospect, Blaylock considered his production of Traitors to be his finest direction for La Boite:
Great play. And just everything worked. And it was done with no set at all. And so it was La Boite at its pared down best … a lot of tension, great dialogue, the pace went well, its politics I agreed with and I thought it was a good statement to make. All the things that were important to me at the time just came together.[i]
Belonging to Australia’s new ‘internationalist’ movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s it is set in Russia during the Stalinist purges of the late 1920s and shows the terrible consequences of personal lives colliding with political forces. A scene of torture juxtaposed with a scene of lovemaking was the source of outrage by the critics and a number of opening night audience members. Produced throughout Australia, in London and New York, it was not atypical of Brisbane that controversy surrounded this play. Local critic David Wheatley condemned the play, and commented that “One man spat on the stage as he left. His was the only action during that act worthy of applause”.[ii] Rowbotham wrote that Traitors was “only for students of the art of calamity in theatre”.[iii]
On the other hand, Jeremy Ridgman in Theatre Australia had nothing but praise for the production, describing it as “a mature, brave and forthright work, perspicaciously selected for an all Australian season … and handled with total commitment to the raw truth of its confrontations, polemics and unfolding passions”.[iv]
Writer: Christine Comans