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Romper Stomper: exploring uncomfortable territory

The team behind Stan’s upcoming six-part series Romper Stomper want to put Australia’s alt-right (and left) under the glare of a television lens.

Sophie Lowe, Toby Wallace and Lachy Hulme star in Romper Stomper

“If you shine a light on something, it’s better than leaving it hidden.”

So says prolific producer John Edwards, whose latest work is the new television series Romper Stomper – a continuation of the controversial 1992 film by writer/director Geoffrey Wright, which starred Russell Crowe as Melbourne neo-Nazi Hando.

Produced with his son Dan Edwards, John says when they started their new business – Roadshow Rough Diamond – in 2016, they began looking at various cinema titles that might have a life in the modern world.

“I’d had the experience before of having re-imagined Puberty Blues in more or less the same place… and expanding out the stories, but we were looking at things that we might attack that way,” he said at a Q&A preview screening of Romper Stomper in Sydney.

“And early on, Dan said, ‘I reckon those Romper Stomper guys have got mortgages and jet skis by now’.

“That was part of the excitement from our point of view anyway, was to imagine where those people had gone, what was the next iteration of that extremism and the fact that the extreme had come into, or close to, the centre.

“That’s where we thought the drama was.”

So did Wright.

He says “there was no toying” with the idea – it was right there in front of them.

“We just sat back, Daniel Scharf the producer of the original film and I, and watched the world turn into a playground that Hando… would find more than interesting, with Brexit, the rise of Trump, the high visibility of all shades of the far right, and in quick response to that, of the far left….

“The world began to morph before our eyes into something that seemed to beckon and say ‘let’s take a look’.”

“If you shine a light on something, it’s better than leaving it hidden.”

Wright says in bringing Romper Stomper into a contemporary Australia, they looked at how the target of the alt-right has shifted.

“In Hando’s time it was particularly the Vietnamese, and in current times it’s Muslims,” he said.

And what were once soapboxes for these people to stand on, are now huge media platforms.

“The racism and the anger vented in discussions about race and culture has almost become a sport. It’s entertainment, it’s all over the media, and it’s very easy to find, every direction you look. So it’s come out of the shadows…

“And because we’re in a world now that’s connected from point-to-point immediately, like-minded people in the US or Britain or Poland or Australia or wherever you like can all get in touch with each other’s fears and terrors and feed off it.”

Wright, who co-wrote the series as well as directing two of its six episodes, says the biggest challenge was preserving the DNA of the film.

“There was a smattering of the old crew in this which I personally found extremely important, because it’s on the core of that old DNA that these new things are built,” he said.

That “old crew” from the 1992 film include Jacqueline McKenzie, who returns as Gabe; Dan Wylie, who’s back as Cackles; and John Brumpton, aka Magoo, who McKenzie said, “was last seen hanging out of a window with a shard of glass in his neck.”

They’re joined by a seasoned actors such as David Wenham and Lachy Hulme, alongside newer faces such as Lily Sullivan, Nicole Chamoun, Sophie Lowe and Toby Wallace, as Gabe’s estranged son Kane.

“We like to look at the flip side of what people can deliver… there was a temptation to go with a certain path but I think we successfully avoided the obvious choices,” Wright says.

McKenzie didn’t think twice about signing onto the Romper Stomper series after getting the call from John Edwards.

“We had the original writer [on one hand] and television royalty [on the other], so we have two incredibly powerful players to bear on this new modern take on the story,” she said.

“Also it’s a different world of watching things now where we have Stan here in this country and Netflix.

“We don’t have to fill out 36 episodes in a year. We can crank out six and really develop it beautifully and that’s what these guys have done.”

The series was co-written by Wright, James Napier Robertson, journalist Malcolm Knox and author/poet/rapper Omar Musa.

Dan Edwards said he had read Musa’s book Here Come the Dogs and was blown away.

“An authentic masculine guy that could write. Like really write. That was first and foremost the reason for getting him into the room,” he said.

“He’s also a secular Muslim and having an authentic point of view in the room is critical.

“But also just having a lot of new, fresh voices [like] Malcolm Knox who’s a journalist and probably more well known for his cricket columns than as a novelist.”

John said the title of Romper Stomper is all about extremes. But an important part of the series is looking at how that impacts the middle. And that doesn’t necessarily mean white middle-class Australians.

“In this case it’s just ordinary people who are going to get caught up in events… and to try to broaden it into going to multiple points of view which is the essence of what doing this sort of television is about.

“We also wanted to look at secular Muslims as well, just because we thought that was more interesting.”

In that way Romper Stomper puts a mirror onto modern Australia. Perhaps it’s not one that people want to recognise exists, or maybe it makes people feel uncomfortable. But the creative team believe that doesn’t make it any less important to talk about it.

As Dan Edwards said: “You see when the film came out in the 90s, how far we’ve come with the Vietnamese community and Asia in general…

“I just think we haven’t gotten to where we have [without] shows like this and so I certainly think what we’re doing is an important story to get out there and tell.”

Romper Stomper releases on Stan on New Year’s Day.