Brilliant James Cumes Petrov affair dramatises injustices
AUSTRALIAN plays are rarely performed in Europe. But this week a new Australian play, The Lovers The Outcasts, has been advertised throughout the Viennese underground, on billboards and on the sides of buses and trams.
Beneath a picture of a handsome young man stroking the belly of an equally handsome young woman is the declaration that the play, written by James Cumes, a former Australian ambassador to Austria, is about to have its world premiere.
The Lovers The Outcasts is a historical echo: the story of the Petrov affair that transfixed Australia in the 1950s and, in an era of anti-communist hysteria, contributed to making Liberal Party hero Robert Menzies the longest serving prime minister in Australian history.
The affair had all the elements to fascinate what was then an isolated culture: Soviet spies, a beautiful woman in the shape of Evdokia (Eva) Petrov, and scandalous accusations aimed at the highest reaches of the Australian government.
It also led to one of the most famous photographs of the Cold War era: the sight of Eva Petrov being manhandled on to a plane by Soviet agents aroused sympathy and outrage around the world.
The Lovers The Outcasts begins a three-day run tonight at the elegant Schlosstheater in Schonbrunn Palace, one of Vienna's prime tourist attractions, and the curious nature of the play has already attracted attention from Vienna's main media outlets.
Key to the interest has been the remarkable 85-year-old Cumes, who is still regarded with affection and referred to as Botschafter, or ambassador, wherever he goes.
Everything about Cumes is extraordinary. His conversation is dotted with tales spanning the decades from his years as a soldier in New Guinea during World War II to his many years as a diplomat with postings in West Africa, Paris, London, Geneva, Brussels and his beloved Vienna. Since retiring he has maintained homes in Vienna, Monaco, Canberra and Brisbane.
He is hoping The Lovers The Outcasts will soon be performed at Monaco's Princess Grace Theatre. He also hopes the play will be performed in Australia.
Cumes has long been obsessed, he says, by writing: he has written 15 books in all, including four novels and a blog he maintains on his website. His latest work, written while in his 80s, is an economic polemic called America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-destruction of a Superpower.
Five years ago Cumes sat down and recounted the Petrov affair, keen to get out a story that had been lurking in the back of his mind since the 1950s.
"Like so many others, I have always thought the Petrov affair was a great story that deserved more dramatic treatment than it has so far received," he says.
The bare facts of his project are interesting enough; that he managed to attract investment from the cultural establishment of Vienna for a story a half century old and from half a world away is even more remarkable.
The Lovers The Outcasts is being performed in English by the well-established Vienna Theatre Company and has attracted several prominent local actors.
Andrea Kunesch, who plays Eva Petrov, is well known to Austrian television audiences. Balazs Schallenberg, who plays Vladimir Petrov, has worked in films and TV, while Australian Brian Hatfield, who plays an ASIO career officer, has worked for the Melbourne Theatre Company. Vienna-born director Roman Kollmer has worked in radio, TV and movies.
• John Stapleton | February 01, 2008 Everything about Cumes is extraordinary.; [ His conversation is dotted with tales spanning the decades from his years as a soldier in New Guinea during World War II to his many years as a diplomat with postings in West Africa, Paris, London, Geneva, Brussels and his beloved Vienna. Since retiring he has maintained homes in Vienna, Monaco, Canberra and Brisbane. James withsHeidi in Vienna ; As James notes We should all be pursuing a lasting victory over world want]