17 October 2010

Review: Jack Charles V The Crown

MIAF 2010
Jack Charles V The Crown
Ilbijerri Theatre Company
Melbourne International Arts Festival
13 October 2010
the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
to 17 October


Jack Charles V The Crown opens with a film of Jack injecting himself with heroin. His isn't a story with secrets.  Nor is it about addiction and relief. It's a story about hope and understanding told with heart and cheekiness. It's Jack's story, and now it's ours.

As the film is shown, Jack sits at pottery wheel making a vase. He ran the pottery shop at the Castlemaine Gaol, where he learnt to teach, and he reminds us that clay is land and that Bunjil the eagle made humanity from clay. It's also a story about identity and belonging.

Although he appeared on our screens and stages in the 70s, Jack Charles become best known after the documentary Bastardy was released in cinemas and shown on the ABC. I was at the first Melbourne International Film Festival screening in 2008 and where I was reminded how that medium of storytelling can change lives and attitudes. 

With director Rachael Maza Long and writer John Romeril helping to bring his story into the personal world of the theatre, Jack tells stories not included in Bastardy and the impact of being in the public eye. After the film, people talked to him on the streets and photos and friends appeared from his childhood, including the daughter of workers from the Box Hill Boys Home who was Jack's inseparable friend 56 years ago.

In the boys home, Jack grew up thinking that the Queen was his mum and had no link with his Aboriginal family until, as a teenager, he took a tram to the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick streets, was recognised and sat in a pub talking to people who knew where he was from. This act led to his first incarceration as his foster mother didn't approve and Jack was sent to the young offenders home.

Jack reminds his audience that to feel vulnerable is a terrible thing and, as a stolen person, he apologises to the people he stole from.  Jack was stolen from his mother when he was four months old. As a society we talk about the stolen generation with reverent tones, but it doesn't take long to hear voices saying that that it's time we got over it. Babies were ripped from arms of their mothers. I don't know how that pain can ever heal. Many of those babies are still with us and maybe the tiny way we can help is by listening to their stories and making their stories part of all our lives.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Bindi Cole

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