Person - Mona Brand
MONA ALEXIS BRAND (1915 - 2007)
Of modest demeanour and quietly spoken, Mona Brand styled herself "the unknown well-known playwright”. She was NT’s major dramatist. Between 1953 and 1984 the theatre produced 16 of her plays in addition to dozens of revue sketches. Mona's works were marked by social commitment, careful character development and structure, and she was a skilful satirist. She usually donated her royalties to NT as it was so often broke and because she did well from overseas royalties. In addition to the stage, she wrote for radio and television plus poems and short stories published in journals and anthologies. As a child she was encouraged by her father. The moral of her first published story, written when she was eight, was that it was better to work hard than be lazy.
Her Strangers in the Land, set in Malaya and staged by NT in 1953 after a season at London Unity (in London Mona was introduced to Vivien Leigh who walked away when Mona started talking about Unity and NT), was produced in Moscow and Bombay in 1955. The New in 1954 produced Better A Millstone, based on a real-life hanging of an English teenager; Out Of Commission, a political satire on the Petrov Royal Commission, in 1955 (during the rehearsal period Mona dived fully clothed into Lake Macquarie to rescue a script which had fallen into the water); No Strings Attached 1958 re US business self-interest in Asia; Hold The Line 1960 a satire on ASIO and "Reds under the beds" ; Here Under Heaven 1961 re racial prejudice in Australia, a reworking of her first full-length play Lola written in 1947; Our "Dear" Relations 1963 a farce on the commercialisation of Mother's Day; Barbara 1966 a study of the generation clash between parents and their children; On Stage Vietnam 1967 a potted history using multi media; Going, Going, Gone 1968 co-written with Margaret Barr re the selling off of Australia's natural resources; Flying Saucery 1970 a children's show; 1971 - A Race Odyssey co-written as Alexa Nugent; And A Happy New Year 1976; The Pirates of Pal Mal 1977 co-written with John Upton re the dismissal of the Whitlam Government; The Three Secrets an environmental pantomime for children 1980 ("This is the story of Crook Look/ A city by the sea/ Where all the people near and far/ Are sick as sick can be"); and Here Comes Kisch! 1984 re the efforts in 1934 by Attorney-General Robert Menzies to keep anti-Nazi campaigner Egon Kisch out of Australia, at the behest of the German Ambassador. In 1965 NT staged Come All You Valiant Miners, Mona's reworking of material in Edgar Argent Ross' history of the Miners' Federation.
The revue Fission Chips 1959 included her "One Man Bus Driver" and "The Tutor's Dilemma" parodying singing commercials. She contributed sketches to You've never had it so good 1966 including "Alabama" its subject the new US craze for cryogenic freezing. She wrote a substitute "Hotel" for the banned "Motel" section of America Hurrah! 1968. Exposure 70 included items on pollution ("Every little breeze/Seems to whisper disease") and the deletion of censored film scenes by scissors-wielding Minister Don Chipp ("Never mind about the plot/Another little snip - chip, chip"). Much of the material in It's Time to Boil Billy 1972 was hers.
For Contact street theatre Mona wrote sketches set to popular tunes such as "The Butcher's Hook" re high prices (“Out at the door the greengrocer stands/ Watching the customers throw up their hands/ Notes how each housewife is gazing her fill/ Glory if he gets one, won’t he make her ring the till") and a benefit for striking dancing school instructors ("Arthur Murray/Taught me dancing in a hurry"). She directed Workshop including her husband's Jim's Secret Weapon in 1963 (she married Len Fox on 26 September 1955; the couple lived in Hanoi 1956-8).
Mona worked in the NT office and wrote press releases. She conducted playwriting courses, and was made a Life Member in 1971. She was Vice President of the Realist Writers Group. Her 80th birthday was celebrated at NT in 1995 ("It was good to feel New Theatre's long history of mateship still alive and well") and her 90th at NIDA. Her niece Diana Brown acted at NT.
Wanting only a peaceful and fairer world, Mona Brand joined the CPA in 1947, guaranteeing a thick ASIO file, the tapping of her phone, and attention to minutiae such as her being given the gift of a teaspoon at a VIEW meeting. After visiting the USSR in 1953 she was met by Security on returning to Australia, as her passport was not valid for Eastern Bloc countries. Although ASIO frequently reported that she was a 100% Red sympathiser, Mona did not feel she was a “pure” Party member, but rather a member of the CPA not the Soviet Communist Party. In her revue sketches she often had fun at ASIO agents' expense:
I’m walking behind you
On your working day
And I’ll make a note of
The things that you say.
If you are progressive
Or that way inclined
Look over your shoulder –
I’m walking behind.
Mona's autobiography Enough Blue Sky was published in 1995. Her estate made provision for the biennial Mona Brand Award for Women Stage and Screen Writers.
- AusStage, Mona Brand
- Obituary, Sydney Morning Herald August 2007
- Mona Brand, Wikipedia
- Mona Brand, AustralianPlays.org
- State Library announces Mona Brand award, July 2016, History Council
- New $40,000 award celebrates female scriptwriters, State Library NSW, July 2016