Nakkiah Lui’s ‘How To Rule The World’ Is Satire So Bizarre It Could Be True
'How to Rule the World' is onstage from February 11.
“Sometimes, you write stuff and you’re like, ‘This is ridiculous’. Then some dimwit with a bloody suit and tie comes out and says it and you’re just like…” playwright Nakkiah Lui trails off in exasperation.
She and director Paige Rattray are discussing How to Rule the World, their latest theatrical collaboration at the Sydney Theatre Company. Premiering February 11 the play lampoons Australian politics – a challenging prospect, considering how ridiculous the nation’s politics has become in recent years.
“If the scene where they’re at the races comes true, we literally have to give up our jobs and become fortune tellers,” jokes Rattray. “I’m just going to quit this earth.”
Lui pitched Rattray the idea for How to Rule the World two years ago – the year Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal to Question Time and Scott Ludlam announced that he was a dual citizen of New Zealand. The story follows three young political insiders, all people of colour who, eager for change, hire a white male actor to create the perfect political candidate. They then use him as a puppet to run as an Independent, hoping to seize control of the Senate.
It’s a wild plot, but not inconceivable in today’s bizarre political landscape.
“The hardest thing about writing the play has been actually making politics satirical at this point in time, because it is so batshit insane that every big ridiculous offer we’ve put out there in the room has come true,” says Lui. “So, it’s like, how more ridiculous can we make this? How much fun can we make of the system that kind of makes fun of itself?”
The result is a satirical, farcical, political, tiny bit musical play, and Lui says she hasn’t seen anything like it before.
“If someone told me about a play [like that], I’d be like, it’s either awesome or… I don’t know.”
“Could be a dog’s breakfast or it could be awesome,” Rattray agrees.
“Could be both. Dogs eat well. At least in my house.”
The odds of it working out are good, given Lui and Rattray’s history. Their 2017 Sydney Theatre Company rom-com Black is the New White was a smash-hit, winning multiple awards and praise from critics and audience alike. In fact, it kept Lui and Rattray so busy that they were unable to begin work on How to Rule the World for a year.
Once they did start however, it came together quickly. How to Rule the World will premiere at the Sydney Opera House just 11 months after Lui began writing the script, the quick turnaround helping ensure its timeliness.
“[The current instability of politics] really gave it an urgency. It had to happen now,” Rattray says. “We wanted something where you go, ‘Oh, actually this is the moment that this needs to be seen and talked about’. It felt right.”
“It’s really fun actually to be making a piece of theatre that is so current, that is so reactive to the present,” added Lui. “We don’t get to do that very often because it is a slower art form in a lot of ways. It takes a while to write it. It’s safer to do plays [that are] a bit more timeless.”
Lui is certainly not one for playing it safe. How to Rule the World may be a comedy, but it is one with purpose, taking on complex issues and difficult questions that people may be too scared to ask.
One its major themes is intersectionality, and “the potential, the success, and the failure of it”. “I think so often, as a community, when trying to attain equality, we take power away from those who are closest to us,” says Lui. “So often we’re tearing each other down, or we go, ‘We’ll just focus on our own thing and we’re not going to help them…’”
“This is three friends who’ve come together, who care about each other, who understand each other, who are trying to make the world better for other people. But in doing that, they’re then seeing the failures of intersectionality.”
However, Lui’s work is also proof that intersectionality can help us lift each other up. Korean-Australian actor Michelle Lim Davidson and Tongan-Australian actor Anthony Taufa play two of the lead roles alongside Lui herself, in parts she wrote specifically for them.
“I wanted to put them in positions of power,” said Lui. “I wanted to give them the white man’s arc. As a person of colour…you rarely get to have the world revolve around you on stage.”
Lui doesn’t like to tell people what to take from a play. “I’m not a uni lecturer,” she says. However, she hopes her audience leaves the theatre a bit more mindful.
“I guess the aim of the game is just to have people look at the person next to them and feel responsible for that person’s future and hope,” says Lui.
“I think if we can just look at each other and actually have a little bit of responsibility for each other, that might help us engage and change the world and ultimately rule it, because our politicians often don’t do that.”
(Lead and final images courtesy of the Sydney Theatre Company)
Tickets for Nakkiah Lui’s How to Rule the World are on sale now. Playing February 11 to March 30 at the Sydney Opera House.