Part of a podcast series

The Wheeler Centre

View all episodes in this series

National Agitators: Confronting Australian Theatre

Listen to National Agitators: Confronting Australian Theatre

Photograph of Alison Croggon, Susie Dee, Patricia Cornelius and Nicci Wilks

Alison Croggon, Susie Dee, Patricia Cornelius and Nicci Wilks at the Wheeler Centre

Warning: This recording contains some repeated coarse language.

Patricia Cornelius, Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks have been making radical and confronting theatre together for decades. ‘I’ve never believed the bullshit about how audiences don’t like risk,' Cornelius has said. 'They actually really do. I’ve seen it.'

Long-term collaborators, their work has more often found a home in innovative independent companies than in establishment state theatres. Yet their provocative Australian stories, dealing especially with issues of class and power, have brought them huge admiration among audiences and critics.

Their admirers, it turns out, extend far beyond Australian shores. In 2019, Patricia Cornelius was named among the winners of the lucrative Windham-Campbell Prize, administered by Yale University. Two of her plays – SHIT and LOVE – were staged at the Venice Biennale in July that year.

Those two productions were also shown in Melbourne at fortyfivedownstairs, directed by Dee and starring Wilks. Before they hit the road for Venice, we presented a conversation with the powerhouse trio at the Wheeler Centre. Join them as they speak with Alison Croggon about politics, performing arts and the power of making audiences squirm in their seats.


Portrait of Alison Croggon

Alison Croggon

Alison Croggon is an award-winning novelist, poet, librettist and critic. She has published eight collections of poetry and several novels, including the acclaimed fantasy quintet The Books of Pellinor, Black Spring and The River and the Book


Portrait of Susie Dee

Susie Dee

Susie has worked extensively in the theatre as a performer, devisor and director in Australia and overseas for the past thirty years. She has been the Artistic Director of three theatre companies: Melbourne Workers Theatre (MWT), Union House Theatre (UHT) and Institute Of Complex Entertainment (ICE), whose projects went on to win various awards and received many accolades for their ground-breaking site-specific work. In 2011, Susie was the recipient of the Australia Council residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. 

Portrait of Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius

‘You pay a price to be able to talk about your own country in the works in a really truthful and brutal way. A lot of people don’t want to hear that.’

Patricia Cornelius is a playwright of rare courage and power. As a founding member of Melbourne Workers Theatre, Patricia Cornelius has spent her career drawing attention to marginalised lives and issues surrounding class. Cornelius has written more than 35 plays, including Slut, The Call, Shit and Savages. She also co-wrote the Australian classic, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? Cornelius is the recipient of the 2019 Windham Campbell Prize for Drama. 

Portrait of Nicci Wilks

Nicci Wilks

Nicci is a freelance artist continually creating and performing works of various art forms.

She began her career with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. She has trained in theatre and circus around the globe including: The Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe (China), the John Palacy Trapeze Volant School (France), Ecole Philippe Gaulier (France), La Fura Dels Baus (Spain), Witness Relocation (New York), Chiara Guidi (Italy) and specifically in circus in Montreal, Norway and Germany. Nicci has worked with a number of companies including: Circus Oz, Melbourne Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre, KAGE, CIRCA, Melbourne Workers Theatre, Hothouse Theatre, Monoxide Circus, Company 2, Born In A Taxi, Dislocate, Legs On The Wall, NORPA and Retro Futurismus. 

The Wheeler Centre

Subscribe to the Wheeler Centre's podcast to hear full recordings of our talks – featuring the best in books, writing and ideas.