Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?

(Visy Theatre)


Student Production

Help Wanted
Potential audience members who meet the following selection criteria:

1. Connoisseurs of fine acting and artistic/ technical design
2. With either:  
a) extremely thick skins, or
b) existing prescriptions for Prozac, and
3. Exceptional viewing stamina.

Who’s Afraid of the Working Class is confrontational, bleak, and commanding. From the start it pummels the audience with graphic depictions of powerless and isolated individuals who live at the margins of society and it doesn’t ever let up.

Originally performed by the Melbourne Workers Theatre in 1998, it was created as a statement against economic rationalism in general and Victoria’s Kennett government in particular. In this production, director David Meenach does a powerful job of exploiting the (considerable) talents of QUT’s graduating actors and an inspired lighting/ sound team to show us a grim underclass caught in a cycle of poverty and brutality. However, the play rarely moves beyond description into more complex social and political questions, and there little relief from the bleakness.

The play consists of four separate but interwoven stories written by different playwrights. In one story, a young Aboriginal salesman struggles with his racial identity. He abuses a white prostitute, is victimised by a white client, and quickly loses his job. In another, two teenagers from Coburg shoplift while pretending to be private schoolgirls. Once caught, they are suspected of a far more serious crime. The third story depicts a family alienated from itself. The father is unemployed, and the son resorts to burglary for pocket money. Meanwhile, the mother begins an ambiguous employment relationship with a dying man in order to pay the mortgage.

The strongest story, with the most potential for development into a play in its own right (and thereby exploring the important themes more deeply), is about two homeless children. Orton and Stace have the same mother but different fathers, and Stace is developmentally challenged. They run away from their abusive and chaotic home and live on the streets. One cold night they seek refuge in a charity bin, and burn to death when a candle they are using for light causes a fire.

One of the most potent scenes in the play contains a monologue from the children’s mother about the circumstances surrounding their homelessness and her experience of their deaths. Her blunt and inarticulate words are a very personal indictment of a government that permits such tragedies. In this production QUT alumna Caroline Kennison plays the children’s mother with a bitter pathos that is wrenching.

With only four female actors in the graduating class of thirteen the director has resorted to putting some of the blokes into dresses, a concept which seems ridiculous but actually works here to add some much-needed levity. Brooke Hender’s Old Woman character is a stand-out in this regard his portrayal of a confused and lonely soul who befriends the boy robbing her is compassionate, real and amusing.

Starting at 8pm and running for three hours not including interval, this production is much too long. It was unfortunate that the very competent performances in the final scenes, including the only appearance of one actor, were not able to be appreciated as much as they might have been.

Applicants for the challenging position of audience member should contact the Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse until the 15th of April.

The production contains nudity, adult themes and very coarse language.

Playing: 7-15 April Wed-Sat 8pm

Running Time: 3 hours 20 minutes including interval

— Ruth Bridgstock
(Performance seen: Wed 6th April 2005)