Last night I went to see Jack Charles V The Crown at the Auckland Arts Festival.
Jack Charles is an Australian legend. He has traveled from movie sets to state prisons in Australia and run the full gamut of life as child of the stolen generation as well as a gifted Indigenous Australian actor, potter and musician.
Charles has lived through the challenges of drug addiction, homelessness and crime. The opening scene of the one-man show is a large-screen projection into a dark memory of his past, him injecting heroin into his ravaged veins.
Born in Cummeragunja in 1943, his formidable eye brows protrude over deep brown eyes that are full of sparkle and wisdom. He has an activist’s soul and an actor’s charisma. This compelling demeanour led to comedian, actor and artist Anh Do to paint the portrait of Charles in 2017 and win the Archibald Prize People’s Choice Award.
“We insist. We insist you know our story of resistance and of our warriors. We just insist you know it” Jack Charles
But this award-winning theatre show isn’t a cautionary tale of crime and punishment. It’s so much more than that. Charles’ warmth, humour, wit and enormous gravitas packed in a pint sized package, all transform a tale of a life of hard knocks into an amazing story of overcoming complex racial and economic challenges to become a celebrated actor.
Charles appeared in several movies, including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), Blackfellas (1993), Bedevil (1993) and Tom White (2004). He then had a role in Pan (2005) and Woodley (2012).
This powerful story on the stage moves lyrically between raw video footage projected onto the wall, Jack swaggering about the stage delivering charismatic monologues and rousing, beautiful musical numbers with a three piece Jazz band who provide the emotional backdrop to the intense narrative.
Created by Charles himself under the wing of the ILBIJERRI theatre company of Melbourne, the oldest and most respected Indigenous theatre company in Australia, Jack Charles Versus the Crown has just come off a highly acclaimed premier season at London’s Barbican theatre. It also ran through years of sold out seasons at the Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth Festivals and the Push International Arts Festival in Vancouver, Canada.
Throwing clay and turning it into beautiful pottery is used as a compelling set piece in the play, with Charles sitting among his pots and turning some clay. He highlights the oft missed analogy that the earthen minerals are the rightful property of his people, having lived in Australia for some 60,000 years.
What makes this show so thrilling is that the narrative is vitally woven by Charles himself who isn’t afraid to delve into his own complex story of his own life and finding within it immense hope, deep humanity and a redemptive healing power of storytelling.
After the show the audience gave him a standing ovation. Tonight is the second and final show and if you don’t go and see it you’re crazy, it was incredible! Probably the most high quality and compelling show I’ve seen at the Auckland Arts Festival so far.