I’d agreed to meet Cate Blanchett at the Sydney Theatre Company’s HQ in the Rocks.
She had promised me that the STC was about to take a bold new direction based on new trends in theatre.
Intrigued, I told her I’d meet her there with my note pad.
“Bring a mouth guard too,” she quipped intriguingly in that Oscar-winning voice.
I grabbed my tape recorder (and said mouth guard) and arrived five minutes fashionably late at the STC.
The site that beheld me was incredible.
The main stage of the Sydney Theatre Company – home to Chekhov, Shakespeare and god knew how many Michael Gow productions (I still have the psychic scars from my HSC days) – had been demolished.
In its place was a giant fighting cage.
And in the middle of that, dressed like a prize fighter, was none other than Cate Blanchett.
“Get up here,” she rasped.
I nervously entered the cage and offered her my hand. Instead, she punched me firmly in the breadbasket.
“You’re late,” she said.
“Oof,” I quipped , winded.
Had Cate Blanchett, winner of two Academy Awards, just struck me?
And did this have anything to do with why she had summoned me here? Or did the Carol star simply want to beat on some journalists today, which was a very laudable and understandable impulse?
As I regained my bearings, Hugo Weaving, naked from the waist up, stepped into the ring.
“I suppose you’re wondering why we’ve replaced the stage with an MMA octagon,” Cate said, eyes blazing with determination.
“I was wondering that,” I managed to reply.
“Me too,” chuckled The Matrix star beside me. “Everyone’s talking about it. The phone are running hot.”
In a flash, Blanchett knocked Weaving out cold. She was a hell of a southpaw. Either that, or Weaving had a glass jaw.
Two minions quickly entered the ring and dragged Weaving away.
“Bring me another actor,” barked Blanchett, bobbing and weaving on the spot.
Then she turned back to me.
“I suppose you’ve seen the new Sydney Festival program,” she said, her voice a delightful blend of Sydney drawl and New York insouciance.
“No,” I said.
Her gloved fists came at me again, pummeling me in the stomach.
“Ooof!” I cried.
“Call yourself a theatre critic!”
“Actually, I don’t,” I wheezed.
I was rewarded with another strike to the belly for my philistinism.
“Arghh!” I said, having said “ooof” twice already.
“Anyway, their new show Prize Fighter will apparently feature live boxing along with incendiary storytelling. That got me to thinking,” she said, rubbing her glove comically against her temple to emphasise the act of thought, “sometimes just showing Hamlet or Macbeth by themselves just isn’t enough.
“In this world of divided attentions, where people play with their iPhones at the same time that they watch Pinter, audiences just aren’t content with watching one thing.”
I quickly stopped tapping on my iPhone as Blanchett went on. “They need more. They need live spectacle. They need …”
“Live boxing?” I offered.
Enraged, Blanchett hurled me against the ropes. Her delicate foot that had tread the hallowed boards of Broadway found my face.
I crumpled like a poorly composed street newspaper theatre review.
“NO, NO! Not live boxing! Then it would look like we’re just copying the Sydney Festival. No … what we will have will be live mixed-martial arts with each show. MMA is far more popular than boxing, anyway.”
“But will our audiences take to mixed-martial arts while they’re watching The Wharf Revue, for example?” asked a greased-up Richard Roxburgh, who had somehow snuck into the ring. “Are they ready for it?”
In reply, she kicked Roxburgh in the head. The Rake star kissed the floor. His mouth guard gently exited his mouth.
I took the chance to quickly insert mine.
“That’s the problem fighting people who haven’t won Oscars,” she said as her minions removed his limp torso. “No stamina.”
“Anyway, I’m thinking of introducing the concept into our latest show, Speed-The-Plow. I’ll do the fighting while Rose Byrne can do the acting.”
My heart leapt. The chance to see Cate Blanchett on stage! It was the white whale of all Sydney theatre, the one show everyone wanted to catch.
Dare I ask her for some “review” tickets?
“Mamet goes with mixed-martial arts, don’t you think? All that quick-fire, brutal dialogue. ‘Coffee is for closers.’ Bam!” she said, punching the air. “‘My watch costs more than your car.’ Bam!”
Cate paused. “Mmm … where is Rose anyway?”
“She’s out,” replied National Treasure Noah Taylor from beside me. Cate responded by kneeing him in the balls. He waddled out of the ring like a comical crab, trying futilely to steal focus away from Cate all the while.
“Shame,” she said. “Rose looks like she’d be a good scrapper.”
“So,” said Cate, turning to me at last, “what do you think?”
I was afraid to talk.
I was afraid NOT to talk.
I was just afraid.
How long could this interview go? How long could I stand up to Cate Blanchett’s MMA fury, a discipline she had clearly studied as hard as any Mamet script?
Fortunately, the Gods Of Theatre smiled upon me.
“No matter how daring your new direction, you’ll never top me, Cate,” said a voice behind me.
We both turned.
It was none other than David Williamson.
Dressed in the garb of a mixed-martial arts fighter.
And he was blazing with the strength of dozens of successful productions.
“I am Australia’s favourite playwright, Cate,” boomed Williamson. “If there should be any radical new direction in Sydney theatre, it should come from me!”
He began bobbing and weaving. At some two-metres tall, his reach was incredible. He was clearly born to the brand-new genre of theatre-luvvie-slash-MMA fighter.
“I’ve wanted this for so long – ever since I studied The Removalist in high school,” Cate said, suddenly bobbing and weaving in turn. “Now come at me!”
The immovable dramaturg was about to collide with the unstoppable actress.
This was no fight for mere mortals to witness.
Plus I had 600 words to write.
I left to contemplate this exciting new direction in theatre – and instantly regretted that I hadn’t asked Cate for some front-row tickets to her new show.
My ebook military thriller The Spartan is out now on Amazon.