One fraction of Australia’s shameful legacy
By Owen James
The 80’s and 90’s were tumultuous times for the LGBTQI community worldwide, as social movements fighting for equality came to a head for many Western countries. The Campaign focuses on the activism efforts of the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group to extinguish the particularly nocuous laws prevalent in Tasmania – criminalising gay sexual activity between consenting adults with a potential sentence of 21 years imprisonment (much higher than the prison term for rape or armed robbery).
This piece of verbatim theatre plays out like a gripping documentary, keeping us riveted throughout as its two-decade historical journey is condensed into a neat and expeditious ninety minutes. Detailed direction by Peter Blackburn succeeds in bringing the many layers of Campion Decent’s text to realistic but theatricalised life, highlighting the joy in each small victory along the way. Blackburn makes the most of the small studio space at Gasworks, utilising intricate lighting and use of simple but effective props and set pieces to keep us engaged and connected to the story throughout. Occasional musical moments act as effective punctuation and give the storytelling a boost at crucial moments.
Emotionally-charged performances from the cast of five ground the theatricalisation of these terrifying events that took place. Their collective depictions of their dozens of real-world counterparts are often highly realistic, creating many moving and rightfully upsetting moments. This focused and balanced ensemble are lead by a sensitive and natural performance from Patrick Livesey as Rodney Croome, who remains brave and loyal across the decades. He is one to watch. The four other extremely strong performances come from Claire Sara, Ally Fowler, Ben Stuart, and Ben Noble (who has the most fun as various politicians and left-wing extremist caricatures).
Don’t miss this compelling and fascinating history lesson of our country’s shameful recent draconian past (arguably in part also a disturbing reflection on the recent campaign for marriage equality), with a heartwarming triumph above adversity that hits close to home.
This important entry for Midsumma runs until 1st February at Gasworks.
Image courtesy of Gasworks
Powerful and lingering
By Myron My
Presented as part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival by Fairly Lucid Productions and directed by Casey Gould, Ben Noble‘s play Member was incited by the death of gay man Scott Johnson in 1988 when his body was found at the bottom of a cliff at Manly. Deemed a suicide, there has always been speculation that he was a victim of a gay hate-crime. However, this narrative focuses on Corey, your typical Aussie living in Manly with his wife and child. We follow Corey through various moments in his life that have led to where he is now: in a hospital room with his son lying unconscious, seemingly fighting for his life.
Ben Noble is exemplary in his performance as Corey (and all the other characters he plays). From the very beginning, our eyes are glued on him and even as he begins to unravel and the truth becomes clearer, we still cannot look away. Corey is a complex character but Noble is able to bring some insight into his actions and thoughts while still holding him accountable for them.
There are some very difficult moments to watch in the show: not because of what’s happening on stage, but because of what’s happening in our head. Noble is so convincing with his delivery of the dialogue and the characters he creates that it is impossible to not begin visualising what is being described. You see the fear in the eyes of the victims with every insult slurred, you hear the moment when foot connects with rib, and you can almost feel the blood splatter from every strike to the face.
The lighting design by Lisa Mibus hones in on the intensity of the events and despite the empty space bar for a single chair, builds well on creating a claustrophobic environment. Jacob Battista‘s stage design that covering the entire floor in one sheet of silver gloss works perfectly in bringing more depth to the work. The watery mirrored surface not only captures Noble reflecting on his own behaviour and past, but also ensures the audience reflect on the community we live in and acknowledge that these things have happened and continue to happen.
Despite its set time period, Member could easily be describing topical events from current times with homophobic attacks on people of the GLBTIQ community still occurring when you consider that only last week a gay man was bashed in St Kilda Royal Botanical Gardens, and stickers were placed along Chapel St stating “Cure AIDS, Kick a Poofter to Death”.
Member is an important story that needs to be told. It’s important because it reminds us that no matter how far we have come as a community and as a society, we still have so much further to go before people such as Scott Johnson can feel safe in their community and in their homes. With a completely sold-out run, here’s hoping this show gets a second season some time soon.
Member was performed between 19 – 30 January at La Mama Theatre
Image by Derek McAlpin