22 Feb

I love a good piece of history. I love stories that model change.

I’ve noticed in this year’s Pride Festival an interest in history; an awareness that, while change is still required, much has been achieved.

Because it has duration, drama is a perfect artform to explore change. When the house lights finally come up at the end of the performance, where the characters are – and where you are – is usually a long way from where you all began.

I suspect another reason that artists exploring the queer experience are currently interested in history is that the generation who began the public fight for rights are, if they’re still with us …of a certain age. Stonewall was in 1969. The first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978. It’s a good time to honour and celebrate their achievements.

(I also suspect an older generation of activists might tire of an attitude sometimes expressed by those newer to the fight, an attitude of ‘Why isn’t the world the way I want it to be? What have you people been doing?’ It’s an attitude whose close cousin is the complaining ‘Karen’, she who’s always demanding to see the manager, whose sense of entitlement blandly assumes the automatic existence of structures that have to be both built and maintained.)

Elias Jamieson Brown’s CAMP presents the exploits of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution, a group of activists who in 1971 were the first in Australia to hold a public gathering of gay women and men.

The play presents their struggles to build awareness and achieve justice, and the personal challenges they faced. Particularly precious is the focus on the lesbian experience (maybe I should get out more, but it’s still a representation that gladdens my soul the rare times I see it). I’m not sure if the characters are fictional or if they’re based on specific historical individuals, but they’re fully and richly human, a glorious mix of failings and flaws, passion and determination. Petty jealousies vie with noble dreams (the surest test of human reality) and for these beautiful portraits of living souls we have to thank Jamieson Brown’s script, Kate Gaul’s direction and the gifted cast.

Our focus is on Krissy (Jane Phegan), Jo (Tamara Natt) and Tracy (Lou McInnes) as they navigate the tension between private needs and group goals. (It’s great to see these tensions represented on stage. It’s the romanticisation of political engagement that so often robs us of agency; a portrait of activism as utterly exciting only enervates us when we find it merely necessary.)

In wonderfully realised transitions and tableaux, Gaul powerfully presents a world of action, where the co-existence of the political and the personal is made manifest.  

Juxtaposed with scenes set in the 1970’s, Jamieson Brown shows us the women as they are now, played respectively by Anni Finsterer,  Genevieve Mooy and Sandie Eldridge. It’s over forty years later, and much has been gained, and much has …changed. It’s an intriguing device, an invitation to consider time, that great gift, the one which always goes, whether we use it or not.

How should we use it?

This is big, bold, inspiring theatre, with a very human heart.

Paul Gilchrist

CAMP by Elias Jamieson Brown

presented by Siren Theatre Co and Seymour Centre in association with Sydney WorldPride

at Seymour Centre until 4 March

Image by Alex Vaugh

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