Wednesday, 11 August 1999

Who's Afraid of the Working Class? Aug 11 1999

by Melbourne Workers' Theatre 
written by Patricia Cornelius, Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves 
 music by Irine Vela
at Trades Hall until August 14, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It should come as no surprise that Jeff Kennett cops a hefty serve of vitriol in the opening monologue of Who's Afraid of the Working Class?

It is the working class or, rather, the workless class, which has suffered most from the policies of this state government.

This is the return season of this production by Melbourne Workers' Theatre, a company that, thankfully, has not lost sight of its role as the mouthpiece of the disenfranchised worker. The show has lost non of its power, humour or despair. It is an emotional roller coaster ride.

The script comprises four narrative threads written by Patricia Cornelius, (Money) Andrew Bovell, (Trash) Melissa Reeves (Dreamtown) and Christos Tsiolkas (Suit). The four are interwoven over the 150 minutes. It is very satisfying to find characters from apparently disconnected stories, being mentioned or even strolling through other parts of the play.

Daniela Farinacci and Maria Theodorakis are credible and hilarious in Reeves story about two 'wog" girls from Coburg who try shoplifting in disguise as private school girls.

Bovell's tale of two children damaged and alone, victims of their hapless mother's boyfriend's violence, is a poignant and finally tragic reminder of life on the other side of the tracks.

Tsiolkas' text is a series of scenes built around a middle-class aboriginal man. (Tony Briggs). It is horrifying to hear him abuse and demean a white whore (Eugenia Fragos) in a violent, colour-prejudiced language. Although the writing is strong, there is less cohesive development of the narrative in his individual components.

David Adamson's radio manic, talkback radio "autodidact" is still a highlight of the play.

Secrets and resentments are the mortar in the family in Cornelius' Money. Father is out of work, son is a thief and mother secretly and devotedly nurses a dying man for extra cash.

The pain and tragedy, the sense of repression and failure is enervating but it is alleviated by the sunny and funny moments in the play. Julian Meyrick has done a clever balancing act with the four sections of the text, making mileage out of scene changes.

Lighting by Paul Jackson is evocative and dramatic with backlight outside the Trades Hall windows colouring trees in the street. the entire program is accompanied by Irene Vela's sonorous Requiem for the Working Class, played by Adam Merange, Dean Addison and Nick Tsiavos which vibrate in the belly with the anguish of the characters.

We need more of this political theatre. Surely we still have the fight inus.

By Kate Herbert

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