Sunday, February 22, 2009

1988 and all that

On January 16 1988 a musical based on Manning Clark's A History of Australia, volumes 1-5, opened at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne as a part of the problematic Bicentennial celebrations. The book was written by Tim Robertson and Don Watson with John Romeril, and the music by Martin Armiger and George Dreyfus with David King. It was directed by John Bell, designed by Shaun Gurton, costume design by Annie Marshall, lighting design by Nigel Levings and produced by John Timlin.

After 5 years of on and off script development, but without the benefit of a try-out season, it was a theatrical curate's egg. A republican goog, good in parts, that provoked fiercely partisan responses. Prime Minister Hawke and his cabinet came to opening night and and rose to join a standing ovation. The neo-con commentariat at the Herald Sun saw it as "left wing cant spewing over the footlights" and took the opportunity to give the anglo-celtic "Carlton Mafia" and its "Leninist" icon Manning Clark a good kicking.

George III is delighted to learn about the kangaroo from Manning Clark and Sir Joseph Banks.

Critical responses otherwise were largely positive, but the GP stayed away. It was just not what a musical was supposed to be. It lacked the glossy production values as well as respect for those of heroic pioneers and status quokkas. Vulgar irish irony excluded ozzie oy. Without the time or energy to evolve, with inexperienced management and sweltering, convict hold-like conditions in the then un-refurbished Princess, it closed after seven weeks despite the generosity of David Marriner, the owner who waived the rent, and a backstage crew so committed to the show that to keep it going they offered their labour for free.

History of Australia the Musical was an opening skirmish in the History theatre of the Cultural Wars of the nineties and noughties. It was beaten up as a failure, rhymes with Australia, Eureka, Bourke and Wills and Gallipoli, a quality so peculiarly prized in the ethos of the nation.


Terry Bader : de Quiros, Jack Ketch, Captain Gilbert, Jesus, Quong Tart, Bold Jack Donohue, Tom Roberts.
Jonathan Biggins: Sir Joseph Banks, Capt Arthur Phillip, D'Arcy, WC and Billy Wentworth, Alfred Deakin, the Unknown Soldier.
Terry Brady: Ensemble,chorus and understudy.
Tina Bursill: Elizabeth Macarthur, St Peter, Caroline Chisolm, Kate Kelly, Lady Carrington.
Darryl Emerson: Ned Ludd, Wharfie, Edmund Barton, understudy.
Michele Fawdon: Dymphna Clark (nee Lodewyckx), Rose, Miss Macarthur.
Bob Hornery: Cheng Ho, Frank the Poet, Bishop Broughton, Lord Carrington, Archbishop Mannix.
Geoffrey Jenkins: Lenny the Spoons, Joe Byrne, Billy Hughes.
Ivar Kants: Manning Clark, Rev. Marsden, Judge Barry.
John McTernan: Capt Cook, Peter the Possum, William Bligh, Henry Parkes.
Linda Nagle: Nance the Ferret, Mrs Wentworth, Queen Victoria.
Helen Noonan: Lara, Mrs Cooper, Nellie Melba.
Ingrid Silveus: Ensemble, chorus and understudy.
Greg Stone: Isaac, the Judge, John Macarthur, Lachlan Macquarie, Roper, Charles Sturt, Henry Lawson.
Carmen Tanti: Hicks, Luddite, Sheila bandicoot, Barmaid and understudy.
Jenny Vuletic: Chartist, John the Baptist, Louisa Lawson, Mrs Parkes.
Ross Williams: Abel Tasman, George III, Marine, Satan, Wharfie, Ned Kelly, George Reid.

London in the 1780s. Jack Ketch the Hangman works the Convict mob, Manning Clark in the queue.

David King, conductor, keyboards,
Michael Tyack, keyboards, Tyrone Landau, keyboards, Phil Henderson, drums, Evan Pritchard, percussion Gary Norman, guitars, Mike Grabowsky, bass

The musical has enjoyed a number of amateur revivals: In ? Sandringham College (that toured to London and Texas), 1996 Monash University, 1995 the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth, 1997 the Centre for the Performing Arts in Adelaide and 2006 Mansfield Secondary College in Victoria's NE.

There are accounts of the show's travails in The Time of My Life by John Bell (Currency 2003)The History Wars by Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark (MUP 2003) and Manning Clark, a Life by Brian Matthews (Allen & Unwin 2008) The Historian in the Spotlight: Manning Clark's 'History of Australia' - The Musical by Peter Fitzpatrick (MUP 2007).

Manning and Dymphna Clark at the Sydney workshop with replicants Ivar Kants and Michele Fawdon.

An early draft of the script can be found here.

The link to the prompt script of the 1988 production, published by Yackandandah is here.

Here is a compilation of some of the songs from the musical.

Articles about the premiere production:
The Weekend Australian Jan 2-3 (Caroline Baume)
Age, Jan 21 1988 (Donald Horne),
Bulletin Dec 22 1987 (Elizabeth Riddell), Time (cover) Jan 25 1988 (Alan Attwood), Times on Sunday Jan 24 1988 ( Paddy McGuiness), Age Feb 8 1988 (Martin Flanagan), Age Feb 9 1988 (Ingrid Svendsen) Herald(?)

Age 18/1/88 H Thomson 18/1/99 L Radic, Herald 18/1/88 J Daniel, Sunday Press 24/1/88 J Larkin, Times on Sunday 24/1/88 B Oakley.

In 2004 the show featured among "twelve (musicals) that made a difference" in Making a Song and Dance: the quest for an Australian musical that was curated at the Victorian Arts Centre.

Costume sketches by Annie Marshall: Elizabeth Macarthur, Chinese devil, Henry Lawson, Nellie Melba.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Time Magazine article by Alan Atwood

    Horne's article The Age 21st. January

    Caroline Baum's piece in The Weekend Australian January 2-3 1988
    It's Fawdon I think and there's an h at the end of Yackandandah
    Flanagan is his spelling
    Mansfield Secondary College 26 Sept. 2006
    I think Grabowsky has a y not an i at the end

  3. It was not so customary in those days but there should be a credit for Lighting Design and it was Nigel Levings. Very proud to be associated with this noble but not quite so successful work.

  4. Unforgivable. Unforgivable. Rectified

  5. Hi Tim, I am a PhD student at UNSW writing about 'History of Australia-The Musical' in my thesis. I am in the process of tracking down all relevant materials (scores, scripts etc) for the show and am wondering if you would be willing to assist me in my enquiries? Please comment back if you check this site and would be willing to talk to me.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. You wrote that 'the neo con commentariat at the Herald Sun saw this musical as "left wing cant spewing over the footlights" and took the opportunity to give the anglo-celtic "Carlton Mafia" and its "Leninist" icon Manning Clark a good kicking.

    To be accurate, these people would have been reporters from either The Herald or The Sun newspapers. In 1988, both were separate newspapers. The Herald Sun began in 1990.