A play for political junkies

On 13 March at Circa, there is a play written by Claire Robinson and directed by Ross Jolly about Michael Joseph Savage. I’m going along, as looks fascinating.

The backdrop from Claire:

The play centres on Michael Joseph Savage, Labour’s first ‘rockstar’ Prime Minister. For decades his iconic portrait hung on the walls of Labour supporter’s homes. Today it regularly beams into our living rooms, from a shelf behind Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she is interviewed at her desk in Wellington. Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, describes him as “the most loved of all New Zealand Prime Ministers.”

But, there is much about this complex man that people won’t know.

Australian born Savage is our only bachelor Prime Minister, a private man whose few close social relationships were with men. Was he New Zealand’s first closeted gay Prime Minister?

Further unbeknown to the New Zealand public and the Labour Party at the time, for his entire 4.5 years as Prime Minister, Savage actively avoided seeking the medical treatment that could have saved his prime minister-ship and his life, from his untimely death from colon cancer. He is also likely to have been addicted to the morphine he was taking to manage the pain of the disease.

Underpinning his reluctance to get treatment was his fear of being challenged for the party leadership by his ‘frenemy’, popular Labour MP John A. (Jack) Lee who, with the support of the Labour Party Caucus, repeatedly attacked Savage for his lack of socialist commitment in government. Savage’s Deputy, Peter Fraser, was also an ambitious man that stood to (and did) gain great power once Savage passed away.

Set against the backdrop of the turbulent events of the 1935-1940 period, THE LEE LETTER offers an at times surprising, yet sensitive perspective on the ruthless and ultimately deadly competition for political power that took place between some of New Zealand history’s most public men in the influential first Labour government.

It is an apposite play for our times, given the many parallels between the policy initiatives being undertaken by the current Ardern-led Labour government and the Savage-led Labour government over 80 years ago.

Again, very much looking forward to this.

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