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Reviews/Theatre

A fortunate adaptation

2 September 2020

Designed to be performed in front of a cinema screen, THEATRE 180 and CinemaStage’s stage adaptation of Albert Facey’s classic novel A Fortunate Life is stylish and innovative, reports David Zampatti.

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A Fortunate Life, THEATRE 180 and CinemaStage ·
Ace Cinemas, Rockingham, 1 September 2020 ·

If Charles Dickens, who had an abiding interest in Australia, had lived to hear of the adventures of Albert Facey, boy and man, the characters he would have shaped into an A Fortunate Life might rival Pip, Miss Havisham and Magwitch, and the hardscrabble farms and hostile bush around Western Australia’s Wheatbelt might match the brooding marshes of Kent in his Great Expectations.

Because the A Fortunate Life that Facey wrote in his old age is a truly Dickensian story. It became an Australian classic (and the foundation of the Fremantle Art Centre Press’s decades of success), with the cruelty, treachery loneliness, awful poverty and disappointment it portrays opposed and finally vanquished by kindness, loyalty, virtue and, most of all, love.

Dickens can work terrifically well on stage, and this innovative adaptation of A Fortunate Life by THEATRE 180 and CinemaStage does too. Performed in front of the massive screen of Rockingham’s Ace Cinemas, the live action and breathtaking audio-visual backdrops produced by Albany’s Green Man Media vividly capture the stories and landscapes of early-twentieth century Western Australia and the tribulations of a little boy, tiny in its vastness and harshness.

We first meet Albert at five years old; by eight he’s essentially alone, put out to work and at the mercy of strangers. He learns fortitude, persistence, ingenuity and courage in spite of the mother who abandoned him, the brutality of Cave Rock Farm, where he is kept in what amounts to slavery and horsewhipped within an inch of his life, and a subsequent childhood working in marginal farms around the WA wheatbelt and droving up into the Gascoyne.

Grown strong and hard, he joins a travelling boxing troupe, and then, like tens of thousands of boys from the bush, faces the horrors of war at Gallipoli.

Sent home wounded and ill, expected to live only a couple of years, Albert accidentally meets the girl who had sent him hand-knitted socks during the war. She is Evelyn, lovely and stalwart, and their 60 years of marriage and seven children (one of whom was lost in WWII) were the good fortune that Facey believed defined him.

Rebecca Davis and Michael Abercromby in ‘A Fortunate Life’.

The adaptation of as long and picaresque a novel as A Fortunate Life is a formidable challenge. Writers Stuart Halusz (who also directs) and Jenny Davis have met it admirably, working back and forward through Facey’s long life, judiciously editing the many stories and allowing the most essential of these room in which to breath.

They are well served by the excellent cast of Rebecca Davis, Benj D’Addario and Michael Abercromby, who seamlessly play dozens of characters, central and peripheral, with clarity and individuality.

Davis is especially charismatic as the young Albert, adding a spunky tom-boyishness to her extensive bag of tricks; she’s an actor who (as I never tire of telling her) deserves more opportunities than Perth theatre was offering her, even before the pandemic deprived everyone of all of them.

I’m sure one of the objectives of THEATRE 180 is to create more openings for the cohort of skilled mature actors Perth is blessed with but sees too little of.

I hope they succeed, and I happily recommend this cleverly conceived and stylishly executed show when it comes to a cinema near you.

A Fortunate Life plays ACE Rockingham until 13 September 2020, then heads to Geraldton Orana Cinemas, 17-19 October.

Pictured top are Michael Abercromby, Benj D’Addario, Rebecca Davis in ‘A Fortunate Life’.

Benj D’Addario, Rebecca Davis and Michael Abercromby in ‘A Fortunate Life’.
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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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