Review: ‘Ginger Mick At Gallipoli’

"Ginger Mick" is a lean but keen and inventive piece that vibrates with the energy of its four-man-strong cast. This invigorating entertainment is produced by the Petty Traffikers company, which has been touring nationally for six years with its economically scaled adaptations of works by masters such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

A boisterously physical dramatization of a revered Australian classic poem, “Ginger Mick” is a lean but keen and inventive piece that vibrates with the considerable energy of its four-man-strong cast. Dynamically directed by Stewart Morritt, this invigorating entertainment is produced by the Petty Traffikers company, which has been touring nationally for six years with its economically scaled adaptations of works by local literary masters such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

The latest offering, a quasi-sequel to the troupe’s popularly received version of C.J. Dennis’ “The Sentimental Bloke,” exuberantly explores the ever-pervasive phenomenon of Aussie mateship as embodied by the Bloke’s petty criminal chum, Ginger Mick, and his WWI exploits as an enlistee in the trenches.

We follow Dennis’ pacily plotted, colorfully slangy verse as it takes Ginger (a manly, ruddy-haired Joe Clements) from the back streets of suburban Melbourne through to boot camp-style training in Cairo and from there to the shores of Gallipoli. It’s at this legendary Turkish locale where “all our Ginger Micks” helped forge the mythically encoded Aussie “Digger” archetype, a muscular, egalitarian, rudely rowdy figure incarnated here with full-blooded force and much humor.

Not to mention lots of song. Drawing from nostalgic standards (“Bless ‘Em All,” “Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye”) as well as less true-to-period tunes (theme from “Rocky,” ’70s pop nugget “Kung Fu Fighting”), the (unaccompanied) playlist enhances the knockabout farce elements and equally underscores a mounting melancholy. Think “Oh! What a Lovely War” meets “Crocodile Dundee,” as performed by a versatile a cappella street quartet.

Ensemble work is exceptionally well-syncopated, with each of the talented foursome bringing his own special quality and commitment to a panoply of characters that memorably people the poetic text, which is by turns whimsical and tragic.

Veteran thesp Bruce Kerr lends reflective dignity to the mostly narrating role of Mick’s back-home buddy Bill (aka the Bloke), but doubles ably in other, more actively engaged cameos. And, alongside Clements’ solidly consistent lead, the remaining pair — rubbery-faced Craig Annis and roguish Brendan O’Connor — are both impressive and endearing as they traverse an astonishing range of personalities.

Especially effective are O’Connor’s snaky Little Smith of Collingwood (“with a string of dirty insults on his tongue”) and Annis’ clumsy Lofty Craig of Queensland (“slow and shy and kind of nervous of ‘is height”). The latter also plays Ginger’s sweetheart Rose, a deftly drawn tart-with-a-heart.

Minimal sets and costumes are sensibly serviceable, since what ultimately counts is the imaginative universe created via fine perfs, Jonathan Taylor’s brilliantly orchestrated movement, Morritt’s inspired direction and Dennis’ marvelous original source material.

This is a diverting and dramatically satisfying tribute to bold, blokesy, all-Australian “grit and real good fellowship.”

Ginger Mick At Gallipoli

Fortyfivedownstairs Theater, Melbourne; 75 Seats; A$27 ($21) Top

Production

A Petty Trafikkers presentation of a play in one act, adapted from a narrative poem by C.J. Dennis. Directed by Stewart Morritt. Choreography, Jonathan Taylor.

Creative

Lighting, Nick Merrylees; production stage manager, Alison Huth. Opened May 23, 2006. Reviewed June 2. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast

With: Bruce Kerr, Craig Annis, Joe Clements, Brendan O'Connor.
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