By Adam Rafferty
For a young Aboriginal man from up North, looking to make it on your own in the Big Smoke can require hard work, compromise and in the case of Jacky, some intrepid career options in order to achieve your goals. Commissioned as part of MTC’s NEXT STAGE Writer’s Programme and originally part of the company’s 2021 season before COVID border restrictions put a spanner in the works, this world premiere from Aboriginal playwright Declan Furber Gillick has proven itself to be worth the wait.
Starring the excellent Guy Simon as the eponymous Jacky, this is the story of a young man straddling the demands of his culture, his family, his work, and his desire to achieve success through buying his own flat. All this in a society that’s designed to make balancing those needs and reaching those goals a lot harder. No one could say he isn’t putting in a sterling effort trying to achieve his aims though. He’s had multiple jobs. From the expected – bar work and office internships; to the cultural – performing at smoking ceremonies; to the daring – working as a rent boy.
When Jacky’s little brother Keith – the charming Ngali Shaw – turns up looking to follow in his footsteps, the efforts to compartmentalise each of these elements of his working life ramp up a gear. Now with the added responsibility of getting Keith up off the couch and away from the Xbox, Jacky is mixing his worlds and walking a knife’s edge. He leans on his boss Linda (Alison Whyte) to get Keith a job at the Irish pub he used to work in, he’s got a client called Glenn (Greg Stone) who’s starting to show signs of infatuation, and the bank isn’t keen to offer him a home loan due his multi-gig income.
Furber Gillick’s play is equal parts funny, enlightening and disturbing as casual, unintentional, and ignorant racism rears its head. Showing how Jacky navigates through Linda wanting him to lie about who he is, in order to lock in funding for her business, or how he copes with being gifted African American spiritual music by Glenn, shines light on the constant ‘cuts’ of cultural ignorance.
Director Mark Wilson has gone for realism in the interpretation and minimalism in staging, using three fixed playing spaces; Jacky’s one bedroom flat and an Airbnb bedroom sit either side of an open space playing area. Christina Smith’s set design is made up of the furniture required for each ‘room’ in mundane, monochromatic tones. Emily Barrie’s costumes are likewise, everyday in style ensuring not to distract from the drama of the story.
This 1 hour and 40 mins, one act play sees Simon on stage almost constantly, requiring skilful focus and evenly increased intensity that he achieves gracefully. Jacky changes his approach to language, attitude and the way he holds himself depending on who he’s speaking to, and Simon is thoroughly convincing in each persona.
Jacky’s brother Keith provides most of the comedy to be found here, and Shaw delivers the laughs through his bouncing energy and fun-loving lack of concern. Furber Gillick does give Keith some more serious notes though too and Shaw changes pace elegantly when defending his rights and reminding Jacky of his familial responsibilities.
MTC stalwarts, Alison Whyte and Greg Stone are the safe and wise hands you’d expect from their experience. Stone is wonderfully discomfiting as the obsessive ‘John’ that fetishises Jacky. Likewise, Whyte’s played lack of sensitivity towards Aboriginal customs is sadly all too familiar, but beautifully played.
While the script draws its racial brushstrokes quite broadly at times, the desired effect is achieved. This is an excellent new work that all involved can be very proud of; certainly, the opening night audience leapt to their feet in appreciation. Further investment in future projects of this ilk should be guaranteed.
Image: Pia Johnson