Rayson, Hannie 1957-

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Rayson, Hannie 1957-
(Helen Judith Rayson)


Born March 31, 1957, in Melbourne, Australia; married Michael Cathcart; children: one son. Education: University of Melbourne, B.A., 1977; Victorian College of the Arts, diploma of art, 1980.


Agent—HLA Management Pty. Ltd. Literary Agents, P.O. Box 1536, Strawberry Hills, New South Wales 2012, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]


Theatre Works, Melbourne, Australia, cofounder, writer, and actor, 1981-83. Writer-in-residence at numerous Australian theatres and universities, including The Mill Theatre, Geelong, 1984, Playbox Theatre, Melbourne, 1985, LaTrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, 1987, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria and Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, 1990. Member, Victorian Ministry for the Arts, 1986-87; member, Literature Board of the Australia Council, 1992-95.


Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee award, 1981; Australian Writers Guild award, 1986, for Room to Move, and 1990, for Hotel Sorrento; Victorian Green Room award, 1990, for Hotel Sorrento; New South Wales Premier's Literary award, 1990, for Hotel Sorrento, and 1995, for Falling from Grace; The Age Performing Arts award, 1995, for Falling from Grace; Sidney Myer Performing Arts award, 1996; Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Drama, for Life after George. Columnist of the Year Award, Magazine Publishers' Society of Australia, for regular contributions to HQ magazine. Honorary degree, Latrobe University.



Please Return to Sender, produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1980.

Mary (one-act play; produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1981), Yackandandah Playscripts (Montmorency, Victoria, Australia), 1985.

Leave It till Monday, produced in Geelong, Australia, 1984.

Room to Move (two-act play; produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1985), Yackandandah Playscripts (Montmorency, Victoria, Australia), 1985.

Hotel Sorrento (two-act play; produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1990), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1990, revised edition, 2002.

Wall Street Creche, 1992.

Falling from Grace (two-act play; produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1994), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1994.

(With Andrew Bovell) Scenes from a Separation (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1995), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1996.

Competitive Tenderness (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 1996), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 1996.

Life after George (two-act play; produced in 2000), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 2000.

Inheritance (two-act play; produced in 2003), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 2003.

Two Brothers (produced in Melbourne, Australia, 2005), Currency Press (Sydney, Australia), 2005.


Seven Deadly Sins (television miniseries; includes Rayson's "Sloth" and "Wrath"), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 1993.

Falling from Grace (screenplay), 1996.

Also coauthor of two episodes of television series SeaChange, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Rayson's Hotel Sorrento was published in Contemporary Australian Plays, edited and introduced by Russell Vandenbroucke, Methuen (London, England), 2001. Author of column for HQ magazine. Rayson's works have been translated into French.


Hotel Sorrento was made into a motion picture.


Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, who was born Helen Judith Rayson, is the author of numerous well-received, sometimes controversial plays centered in her native country. Hotel Sorrento "is Rayson's most ambitious play, and it established her as a playwright of real substance," commented a biographer in Contemporary Dramatists. The lives and interactions of three sisters in the present and the past form the core of the story. Hilary lives a quiet life in Sorrento with her father and her son; Meg has spent years in England and married an Englishman; and Pippa sought her fortunes in the United States and has come in for a visit from New York. Now reunited after ten years apart, the sisters once again discover the restrictions and constraints of family life, as well as the importance of strong family ties to forging identity, a sense of home, and one's own identity.

Inheritance concerns two families, headed by octogenarian sisters Girlie and Dibs, and the struggle for a valuable farm to which several people can make a legitimate claim. Dibs's children believe the property should be sold and the proceeds split equally. However, foster son Nugget, an Aborigine, has long worked the farm while his siblings made their living in the city. Girlie relinquished any claim to the farm for a ten thousand-dollar payment years ago, but her son Lyle has earned his living there all his life, which gives him a real stake in the fate of the property. Michaela Boland, writing in Variety, called Inheritance Rayson's "most ambitious work in a career of many highlights." Boland further observed that "Rayson's characters are at once funny and empathetic, drawn with pungent specificity." Australian Screen Education critic Andrew Dodd called the play "clever, biting, and funny," as well as "extremely timely and valuable because it's the whole rural conundrum wrapped up in one."

Life after George considers the aftermath of the death of left-wing Bohemian academic Peter George and the effect it has on four women in his life, including two ex-wives, his current wife, and his daughter. His first wife, Beatrix, was an artist content to be the stay-at-home mother of their children. The book segues from Peter's marriage to Beatrix into a relationship with Lindsay, one of his graduate students, who ultimately becomes a university administrator and eclipses George's academic career. In addition, she infuriated George by her decision to accept corporate sponsorship within the university and to replace numerous liberal arts classes with vocationally based courses. George's widow, Poppy, who is more than twenty-five years his junior, is an energetic modern woman in tune with Internet culture and individualism. Following George's death in a plane crash, where he was discovered with another unidentified woman who is assumed to be a current fling, the wives and daughter assemble to give George his proper burial and to allow friends and associates to pay their last respects. Bitter conflict arises between the women, even to the point of how best to memorialize George. Combining the present with three decades of George's past, Rayson explores George's life as it relates to the four women and how it represents criticism of the sterile, corporate-style atmosphere of many modern universi- ties. Spectator reviewer Toby Young praised the work as "a beautifully polished production of a well-written play and a timely reminder of the virtues of the old Left."

Some of Rayson's work became quite controversial and led to her vilification by several figures in Australian media and government. Two Brothers, for one, is based on the SIEV (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel- Unknown) incident from 2001 in which more than 350 refugees, including 150 children, drowned after their overcrowded boat sank in international waters between Indonesia and Australia. Many came to believe that the Australian government, then enmeshed in a strong campaign against refugees and immigrants, deliberately let the refugees perish. Assertions that the refugees had intentionally thrown their children overboard in order to force Australian ships to rescue them were discredited, and a great cloud of suspicion arose around questions of what the government did and did not do for the SIEV refugees. In the play, James "Eggs" Benedict, is consumed by an ambition to become prime minister that overcomes any humanitarian concern. To further his agenda, he issues murderous orders to Australian vessels to not rescue any refugees. The other brother, Tom Benedict, is a liberal lawyer who champions unpopular causes and individuals and who seeks justice for the SIEV victims. Many reviewers saw close parallels between James Benedict and Peter Costello, an official with aspirations to the prime minister's seat, and between Tom Benedict and Costello's brother Tim, the head of an Australia-based international charity. The fictional incident in the play does not directly reflect the facts of the SIEV case, but for many audiences, it was close enough to serve as an indictment of the government's failure to rescue the drowning refugees. Richard Phillips, writing on the World Socialist Web site, suggested that a number of scathing reviews of the play were constructed to intentionally discredit Rayson and her work.



Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Contemporary Women Dramatists, St. James Press (London, England), 1994.


Australian Screen Education, spring, 2003, Andrew Dodd, review of Inheritance, p. 154.

Meanjin, March-June, 2005, Hilary Glow, "Class Action: Dramaturg Hilary Glow Talks to Playwright Hannie Rayson about Class, Racism, and Political Apathy in Contemporary Australian Society and How the Stage Can Represent and Tackle Such Issues," interview with Hannie Rayson, p. 326.

New York Times, May 26, 1995, Stephen Holden, "Reunion of Three Sisters Who Ponder Lofty Issues," review of Hotel Sorrento.

Spectator, March 2, 2002, Toby Young, review of Life after George, p. 47.

Variety, March 11, 2002, Matt Wolf, review of Life after George, p. 42; May 5, 2003, Michaela Boland, review of Inheritance, p. 40; September 27, 2004, Michaela Boland, "Melbourne State Mixes It Up in 2005," p. 95; November 22, 2004, Michaela Boland, review of Scenes from a Separation, p. 61; April 25, 2005, Peter H. Kemp, review of Two Brothers, p. 61.


AustList, http://www.austlit.edu.au/ (September 29, 2006), biography of Hannie Rayson.

Curtain Up Review, http://www.curtainup.com/ (September 29, 2006), Lizzie Loveridge, review of Life after George.

Doollee Web site, http://www.doollee.com/ (September 29, 2006), bibliography of Hannie Rayson. Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (September 29, 2006), bibliography of Hannie Rayson.

Ninemsn, http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/ (November 12, 2000), "Arts: Hannie Rayson," profile of Hannie Rayson.

Perry Middlemiss Home Page, http://www.middlemiss.org/ (September 29, 2006), biography of Hannie Rayson.

State Library of Victoria Web site, http://www.slv.vic. gov.au/ (September 29, 2006), biography of Hannie Rayson.

Sydney Line, http://www.sydneyline.com/ (September, 2005), Keith Windschuttle, "Vilifying Australia: The Perverse Ideology of Our Adversary Culture," review of Two Brothers.

Theatre Notes, http://theatrenotes.blogspot.com/ (April 20, 2005), Alison Croggon, review of Two Brothers.

World Socialist Web site, http://www.wsws.org/ (May 5, 2005), Richard Phillips, "Media Witch-Hunts Australian Author Hannie Rayson and Her New Play," review of Two Brothers.