Saturday 15 June 2019

Beachside Stories - Theatre Review

What: Beachside Stories
When: 13 - 22 June 2019
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Written by: Brooke Fairley, Alison Knight, Clare Mendes, Bruce Shearer, and Adele Shelley
Directed by: Elizabeth Walley
Performed by: Tony Adams, Melisand Box, Emma Cox, Alec Gilbert, Dick Gross, Sarah Hamilton, Coralie Ling, Peter Logan, Tony Manago, Giovanni Piccolo, and Karissa Taylor
Giovanni Piccolo and Peter Logan - photo by John A Edwards
Melbourne Writers' Theatre are presenting their newest season of local short plays, Beachside Stories, at Gasworks until June 22. This season has a fun new twist with the company having been invited to interview local residents of note and create performance pas de deux to show off the rich and extraordinary living history in the Port Phillip community.

For this adventure, the writers interview a range of local people - mostly via email - and through a process of exchanges and editing a snapshot of their works and achievements within communities was created. What makes Beachside Stories truly powerful is the person whose life's work is being examined (and honored) is right there, up on stage performing their truth alongside the theatre makers involved in creating this living gallery. Walley (director) has also cleverly chosen to reuse the oversize picture frame set piece from their 2018 season Stark. Dark. Albert Park.

Not every story hits the same high notes, but every story is unique and most are worth telling. Perhaps the only odd one out is the story of Melisand Box. She seems to be a wonderful young woman but she has not lived her life yet and has no story to be told. As such her vignette - with a wonderful Anne Hathaway impression by Taylor - is fun and fanciful but really doesn't seem to fit into the program which is about real people engaged in truth-telling.

The program begins with the story of the many failures of Gross who has received Queens honors for service to the environment and local government. As Gross interrogates Gilbert about his life the list of things he didn't quite get through council and the list of changes he hasn't yet been able to make, the depth of humanity and character of the man fighting those fights for us all shines through.

Perhaps my personal favourite was the second story about Reverend Ling and written by Mendes. Ling was the first ordained female in Australia and has never relented in her ecofeminist ministry. Cox stands beside the now quite elderly Ling, showing us the feisty young woman who received a special shawl on ordination in the Northern Territory, made for her by the local first nations people with embroidered images from their dreaming. Things have not been easy - in fact they have been very lonely if you read between the lines - but Ling still has every ounce of that fighting spirit and is still an activist (currently for refugees) in her retirement.

Logan's story is a feisty one. He has spent a lot of his life in active protest to save Albert Park from the Grand Prix. He is also a marathon runner and this has enabled him (and his wife) to outrun the police on many occasions whilst trespassing to hand out protest literature. Knight has created an interview style text, much like a TV documentary, with a lot of memories to laugh at and a fun twist at the end.

As much fun - and as surprising - as the stories have been so far, the program ends on a high note (literally). I am sure we have all heard of the singing butcher of South Melbourne Markets. If you haven't, this is your chance to not only find out more about him, but to also hear his glorious voice resonate across the studio. Manago was discovered in his little butchers shop serenading the customers at 38 years of age. He has completed 8 master classes in Rome and Italy, and performed regularly with Melbourne City Opera. Adams and Hamilton play out Manago's story, but the final bravo is left for the man himself.

More and more as time goes by and I see programs such as Beachside Stories I start to realise this is perhaps what theatre is about more so than those box office megapods dominating our industry. Is this what our first people are trying to tell us - that story telling build communities when it comes from people and is for people, and that we corrupt it and ourselves when it lacks truth and relevance?

In fact, the one thing I did feel was missing from the program was the story of an Aboriginal community member. So then, is the absence of this story actually a part of the story of the community of Port Phillip? Now that is something to think about too amongst this colourful and richly woven tapestry of life!

4 Stars

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