Charlie Cousins, Sam Duncan, Jacob Machin, Gabrielle Scawthorn
21 March 2015
At first it was difficult to know who was the more attractive woman: Gabrielle Scawthorn (as Lorna or “Lorn” a nickname that inspired awful puns about grass) in black market nylons and scent or Charlie Cousins sporting magnificent boobs. After a few seconds Gabrielle’s magnificent red hair won hands down and not just because it took that time to realise that five o’clock shadow was just visible under Cousins’ make-up.
But Y & J was not about cross-dressing, although that fleshed out an interesting character. It was about the pointlessness, gut-wrenching horror of war and its universal ability to destroy men’s minds as well as their bodies.
It's late 1945. Two sailors who are about to get their orders are on weekend leave from Flinders Naval Base. The rules that specify they are too junior to take a room at Y & Js are a challenge to be taken on and so are the Yanks that steal their women – in this play, both successfully.
The boys – they are about 17 – avoid any consideration of the war against the Japs still raging up north with classic Aussie wit. Don Reid built the rapid fire dialogue into rehearsals for concert party skits (‘men only’) that rationalised the camp sexual innuendo and awful puns. It’s difficult stuff to write credibly but Reid did it superbly. Its delivery depended on split-second timing but Cousins (as Keith) and Machin (as the dim-witted Jimmy) made it seem effortless and therefore unrehearsed.
The script was inspired by real men and real locations and events that could easily have been. It’s a sort of historical fiction – or is it fictional history? Les (Sam Duncan) is best in hospital getting treatment for “shell shock” – now PSTD – where the byplay with a pineapple (you don’t take flowers to a bloke) is beautifully written and precisely acted. But Aussie blokes don’t talk about themselves and certainly they don’t do meaningful confessions about how they feel when they have failed to cope (as their mates in battle appear to have) and appear weak (and therefore unmanly). That awkward scene might have been better built on laconic insults where Keith effectively, but not directly, tells his best mate Les that he understands what’s going on in Les’s head. Later, the erotic content (Keith knows ménage à trois) works well by reminiscence and allusion. Les’s PTSD might have been better handled the same way.
Chloe’s costume by Michael Hili, design & artwork by Miranda Costa.
image from http://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com/events/
Setting the audience in Young and Jacksons’ main bar worked superbly. Setting Room 24 – with its two iron beds – on one side and the hospital room on the other and the bar with Chloe (left tit damaged by a brutish Yank and patched by a sensitive barman) at one end was entirely credible. So were the minimal sets – one wonky backdrop and a few well-chosen props.
Y & J is an important story. It records Australian history. It records Australian culture. It records what war did and is still doing to young Australian men except that in 2015, the Australian army does not treat many of them. It just chucks them out.