Saturday, April 21, 2012

Theatre: John Gavin

Written and directed by Nick Candy
With Dawn Pascoe, Steven Finnigan and Nick Candy
Blue Room Theatre
17 April – 5 May
Nick Candy, Steven Finnegan and
Dawn Pascoe (pic Matt Scurfield)
There’s the tale and there’s its telling.
John Gavin was just 15 when, in April 1844, he became the first European executed in the fledgling Swan River Colony. His short life was Dickensian: when he was only 11, he was transported with 28 other boys, “Parkhurst Apprentices”, to Western Australia to serve a 10-year sentence for, we gather, some minor artful dodgering. He’d been here four months when, in February 1844, he confessed to the brutal murder of George Pollard, a son of the Pinjarra family to whom he had been indentured. He was tried on April 3 that year and, two days later (Good Friday intervened), hanged at the Roundhouse in Fremantle.
In an act of gruesome kindness, the sheriff had weights tied to Gavin’s skinny legs so the lad’s death pangs would be mercifully brief. His body was secretly buried in a shallow grave in sandhills to the south of the Roundhouse.
Nick Candy’s script recounts Gavin’s wretched story with few embellishments and scant detail. He implies, but doesn’t effectively substantiate, doubt about the boy’s guilt, but this seemed to me more for effect than purpose.
That purpose is the intriguing and often exciting way the story is told. Candy and his fellow performers, Dawn Pascoe and Steven Finnigan, are skilled aerialists, and many of the production’s best scenes are performed suspended above the stage on harnesses and ropes (fortunately, they pass on the temptation to get graphic about Gavin’s hanging). There’s some great circus humour – the crossing of the equator on the boys’ voyage out to the colony is especially memorable – with impressive strength and physical dexterity on display, and these, rather than any particular quality in the narrative, are the show’s highlights. Costume designer Chaka dresses the cast primarily in long johns, a neat way to represent both the place and time of the action and the show’s performance style; and the inevitable Joe Lui, as usual, makes much out of very little in his sound and light designs.
There’s more to the story of John Gavin than is told here, and it has the potential for a deeper and more insightful examination. But, as performance art, this clever and sometimes exhilarating telling is well worth your attention.

Link here to an edited version of this review in The West Australian 

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