Review by Kate Gaul
Tales from the Jetty is four short plays commissioned by Gasworks and created by Melbourne Writers Theatre. Each play is a verbatim work - developed through interviews conducted by the playwrights. Four charity organisations were selected - Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria, Achilles Melbourne, St Kilda Mums and Midsumma Pride March. Producer, Clare Mendes highlights the important contribution these charities have made to communities across Victoria, while sharing their entertaining stories and rich histories with audiences.
First up there is Capturing our Natural World by Bruce Shearer which tells a story set in 1884 about a party of field naturalists - fond of hiking – who discover a beach they go on to fight to save. It is Wilson’s Promontory – and of course they saved it! As always with verbatim stories from the past – and in a program that celebrates triumphs – it’s often hard to create dramatic tension. But we get a lot of facts and some impressive period costumes. I have to admit, it was tricky to connect with this struggle.
A Walk in the Park by Alison Knight impressively extols the virtues of an incredible charity Archilles Melbourne – an organisation which facilitates training and participation in running and walking events in a supportive social environment “where people with disabilities can achieve life changing goals” (so says the website). We meet a young journalism student who accidentally collides with an Archilles runner and becomes a willing advocate and, in this instance, historian. It’s actually a fun story with great contributions from the cast which includes vision-impaired Achilles member Madeline Seiter, and a woman called Monica Wong – who also performs herself. Both add a powerful level of authenticity. Cosima Gilbert plays the spirited journalist and is supported by a hilarious Donna de Palma.
The Birth of St Kilda Mums by Aldele Shelley charts the vast, enduring story of St Kilda Mums, established in 2009 and now a major charity. It began with a mother’s group, an unwanted pram, and a desire to donate. Such an important story of generosity, resilience and the best of humanity. Marnie Gibson is a standout as founder Jessica Macpherson. Beautiful, simple storytelling that doesn’t hide its aim to inform and celebrate this mighty on-going charity.
To end the program, 11000 and Counting by Gregory Vines is the closest to drama. In the early 1990s two activists – engagingly played by Kristina Benton and Ross Larkin – attempt to convince a couple of ministerial aids to sign off on and have the premier support a Pride March initiative. Marni Gibson and Alec Gilbert are pitch perfect in their bureaucratic blocks. No struggle for human rights and understanding is ever over and its fitting that the full company of actors from across the program join the cast of this play in a rainbow celebration of the Midsumma Pride March.
Overall, the production of each piece is serviceable without being surprising. Director Elizabeth Walley has gotten out of the way and one forgives the community theatre rough edges for work that speaks so directly about and to a community. I learnt a lot and I am grateful to have seen the show. I watched the preview and I recommend this program to curious theatre goers. All done and dusted in an hour of packed facts, humour, and hidden gems and perhaps a few tears too.
Image Credit: Anna Moloney-Heath