A Local Man by Bob Ellis and Robin McLachlan. Directed by Bill Blaikie. Presented by Bathurst Arts Council at the Ponton Theatre, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst Campus, August 6 – 15, 2004. Email: email@example.com .
Ben Chifley has just lost his second election to Bob Menzies. On June 9, 1951, he is writing his last speech for the next day's ALP Conference, knowing his heart disease is critical. Three days later he is dead.
What went through his mind on that freezing thunderous Saturday evening at 10 Busby Street, Bathurst? Is he the iconic revered Labor leader, symbol of honesty in politics which now seems to belong only to the distant past?
What can he tell us about the half-century - Federation, Gallipoli, Depression, the bombing of Darwin, Changi, Burma, Kokoda, the Welfare State, the Commonwealth Bank, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, even the opening of ANU - the stuff of the Australian legend, which constituted his adult lifetime?
What were his personal devils, clawing away at his sense of self-worth?
This collaboration between historian McLachlan and celebrated writer Bob Ellis gives us both the history and the man. In this simply subtitled "new play about Ben Chifley", his perceptiveness and his humour show us the reality of his time. His passing leaves us reflecting on today's political and personal world.
Though the script is a major achievement, welding art and accurate history, the performer, Tony Barry, was not properly prepared for opening night and needed a prompt far too often. A two-act monologue of this depth is a complex task, but Barry proposes to tour the play. It was disappointing that the first night audience were not given all that Ellis and McLachlan have created, but Barry portrays the character true to life and we saw the requisite acting skills in many segments. 10 more matinees and evenings in Bathurst will surely bring the whole performance up to expectations.
The set, sound track and photo projections have been meticulously researched and are cleverly constructed for touring. I trust that we may see A Local Man in Canberra, where there are many appropriate venues like the National Museum, Old Parliament House, Courtyard Studio and other small theatre spaces - or indeed new Parliament House, preferably before the next election. A light on the Hill, perhaps, or to quote from the play:
(The lights begin to flicker.) BEN: Hang on, the lights are going off .... Bloody Liberal government. Bunnerong and Bungeroff. (The lights go out.)
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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