When Prince Hamlet cried ‘The play’s the thing’, he was about to use a performance of The Mousetrap to demonstrate a point central to his purpose: he intended to ‘catch the conscience of the king’. Nearly 400 years later, British playwright David Hare endorsed and expanded Hamlet’s utilitarian approach, writing: ‘Indeed, if you want to understand the social history of Britain since the war, then your time will be better spent studying the plays of the period … than by looking at any comparable documentary source.’
Leonard Radic, theatre critic for The Age for twenty years from 1974, quotes Hare in the introduction to his second book on Australian theatre; his first was The State of Play (1991). He sets out to exemplify Hare’s contention in an Australian context, describing the playwright as witness, chronicler, observer, commentator, entertainer. He extends to other playwrights David Williamson’s celebrated self-description, ‘storyteller to the tribe’.