There is something about recognising similar qualities of ambition in others and finding it compellingly attractive. It was this discovery of like minds which first attracted theatre director Christopher Hurrell to the tale of legendary navigator Matthew Flinders, who died almost 200 years ago.

When Hurrell was first sent the script of the new play Navigating Flinders, which has its world premiere at the Ensemble Theatre on 29 July, he recalls it was one sentence of the script which commanded his attention and made him accept the directing assignment.

I knew I should direct the play when I read the line, -˜Oh Matt, only 27 and already a commander,’ Hurrell says during a break in rehearsals in the Ensemble’s harbourside foyer. I was 27 when took the job, and those kinds of issues of being in leadership when you are young, that meant something to me.

I think a clear portrait of him is the dichotomy of the drive and ambition and the qualities that go with it. You can’t be that driven without a measure of arrogance -“ not that I am speaking from experience, you understand, he adds with a laugh.

Adelaide-born Hurrell moved to Sydney four years ago and has directed productions including Mr Bailey’s Minder, Myth, Propaganda And Disaster In Nazi Germany And Contemporary America and The Nightmare.

Navigating Flinders, written by Don Reid, presents a portrait of the flawed and passionate Matthew Flinders, who circumnavigated and surveyed Australia in 1802-03 and gave the country its name.

The play follows Flinders’s unrelenting drive to be the first man to chart the then unexplored continent, as well as his relationships with his wife Anne, his brother Samuel and his close friend Sir Joseph Banks. It also explores his romance with a local woman when he was imprisoned by the French for nine years on Mauritius.

One thing the play does not explore is the recent queer interpretation of a letter from Flinders to his friend, fellow explorer George Bass.

In a letter, Flinders wrote: There was a time when I was so completely wrapped up in you, that no conversation but yours could give me pleasure; your footsteps upon the quarterdeck over my head took me from my book and brought me upon the deck to walk with you.

While these sentences of affection from Flinders have been seized upon by some queer historians as proof that there was an intimate relationship between the two men, Hurrell is not so convinced.

When you read that letter as it was published, it is very clear what is actually going on, he says. Flinders is being deliberately flowery in his description of their friendship, as he then wants to have a go at Bass. It is actually a case of, -˜I love you, but you are such a wanker’!

Navigating Flinders has its world premiere on 29 July at the Ensemble Theatre. Bookings 9929 0644.

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