By Karyn Hodgkinson
One can be forgiven for thinking that How to Save a Tree is solely about protecting the environment. Though concern for the environment is ever-present, we are asked to consider other ideas and issues specific to particular protests in Melbourne. The technique of ‘verbatim theatre’ was used where 4 playwrights interviewed their subjects and then wrote a short script based on those interviews. The challenge was to create an entertaining play without being too didactic or expository. The result is that we leave the theatre better for going in. We are enlightened, we are moved and we laugh as we are taken on this journey of outrage. In programme order, the first play by Bruce Shearer, Jennie Baines versus the World, focuses on a suffragette in early Victoria. Jennie Baines immigrated to Australia in 1913 and soon campaigned for better conditions for women. Cassandra Hart is well cast as the feisty Jennie which she plays with gusto, though at times, her acting is too much on the one emotional note. Ian Ferrington plays Jennie’s husband and a range of other characters skilfully. However, more judicious use of costume pieces could have been made to delineate his characters more effectively.
The second piece, The Time is Now by Megan J. Reidel, highlights the moment in 2022 in the National Gallery of Victoria, where a man, Tony, and a woman, Daisy, ‘glued’ themselves to a Picasso painting depicting the Korean War of 1950 – 53. Both protesters are members of the established environmental protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion. I knew little about the Korean War but the play invited me to find out more. While all 4 actors, Feng, Gabrielle Ng, Carrie Moczynski and Alec Gilbert, acquitted themselves well in this and in other scenes, lines will no doubt be consolidated during the season’s run.
The third play, Waiting Game by Louise Hopewell, highlights the shocking inequity when it comes to a tennis ‘star’ like Novak Djokovic being held in detention for 5 days (due to his vaccination status) with asylum seekers and refugees who’ve been detained in the same ‘hotel’ for 9 years. Sr. Brigid Arthur, of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP), was interviewed as the main provider of housing and employment support for asylum seekers. She has also taken asylum seekers into her home and visited them countless times in detention centres.
The 4th and final piece, Good Trouble, by Gregory Vines provides an upbeat conclusion to the evening with protestors at a Grand Prix gradually being arrested and confined in what could be understood as a police ‘paddy wagon’. The conceit of a disparate set of characters being arrested and confined one-by-one, and constantly commenting on their situation, is very amusing.
Congratulations should go to the director, Elizabeth Walley who brought a cast of 9 actors presenting these 4 plays, in such a way that it flowed seamlessly. This was helped by her use of a minimalist set and the able assistance of John Jenkin’s sound design. Further congratulations should go to Clare Mendes, the producer, whose idea it was to have these plays written and presented in this way. To do this she drew on the work of the aforementioned luminaries of the protest movement in Victoria and elsewhere – Extinction Rebellion, Sr Brigid Arthur and Peter Logan and his wife Joan, known for leading the ‘Save Albert Park’ protest during the Grand Prix events.
This is an energetic, entertaining and fun evening, which in the words of Extinction Rebellion, is all about ‘love, peace, courage and resistance . . . always!’