Friday, 1 May 1998

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? May 1, 1998

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? written by Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius
Melbourne Workers' Theatre
Trades Hall Theatre until May 23, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around April 30, 1998

In an era when our definition of 'neighbours' is a television soap, a play about human isolation, self-absorption and the loss of community support is a tragic indictment of our system. The disintegration of the family and the 'every man for himself' behaviour has all but decimated our sense of community.

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? is a grim portrayal of contemporary urban life. It comprises a collage of loosely connected stories by four commissioned writers (Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius) for Melbourne Workers' Theatre.

Of the 18 characters only four have jobs: two police, one prostitute and an insurance salesman. It might better be called Who's Afraid of the Workless Class?

MWT has generally developed light, funny, brazen shows that celebrate adversity with music and satire. In this moving and provocative production, there are laughs and music but the writers work on common themes about the disenfranchised underclass created by insensitive government policies and shrinking job market

We witness a desperate family who steal from each other and have secret lives.(Money: Cornelius) Two child runaways, whose mother has endangered their lives in order to keep her abusive boyfriend feature (Trash: Bovell). Two teenage of migrant families disguise themselves as private school girls to shoplift glitzy dresses. (Dreamtown: Reeves)

The most disturbing and potentially offensive characters are from Tsiolkas, a novelist now writing for theatre. The show opens with another grotesque monologue by a youth who has obsessive sexual fantasies about Jeff Kennett. (Bruce Morgan) Tsiolkas defies political correctness, making an aboriginal salesman the racist. (Glen Shea)

The writing is rich, provocative and often poignant and the splendid ensemble plunge into the emotional pond with commitment. As Reeves' shoplifters Daniela Farinacci, Maria Theodorakis are hilarious. As Bovell's runaways Farinacci and Morgan are a sweet and doomed pair of step-siblings yearning for a loving home.

Theodorakis, as the fraught mother, provides a bitter-sweet monologue about caring for a dying man. A cameo highlight was David Adamson as Reeves' pathological radio caller.

Director, Julian Meyrick has skilfully interwoven 21/2 hours of engrossing material with stylish cross-overs and swift scene changes. To suggest some editing would be picky. The whole is enhanced by discreet  lighting (Paul Jackson), simple design (Greg Clarke) and evocative music  by Irene Vela played by double bassist and cellist. This really is a fine and challenging work from the working class.


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