As the battle between the Allies and Japanese forces was intensifying in the Pacific, Jimmy (Jacob Machin) and Keith (Charlie Cousins), two Australian navy boys were in a war of their own. At Young & Jackson, the iconic pub in Melbourne, a brawl had broken out between the boys and some Septics – short for ‘septic tanks’, the sailor’s nickname for the Yanks.
Despite looking like naval officers, Jimmy and Keith behave more like pranksters, running upstairs and hiding in their hotel room, barricading the door with bed frames. They wait until the coast is clear before laughing and bragging about the all the action. Fortunately the only casualty in this pub fight was Chloe, the 19th century French painting hanging above the bar. Her right tit was wounded.
Unlike Chloe who famously bares all, Jimmy and Keith, the main characters in this story, are too young to open themselves up to being vulnerable. Therefore much of the play is fairly light, depicting these friends, or brothers as they fondly regard each other, taking advantage of a couple of days leave from the ship. Like two teenage boys left unsupervised, they drink, play with their crotches, fantasise about women, imitate their lieutenants, talk in slang, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
The boys hit the jackpot when Lorna (Gabrielle Scawthorn), a girl from the country arrives at Young & Jackson, to give something back to the men who have nobly risked their lives to defend the nation. She is a traditionalist in some ways, and a new wave feminist in others, taking control of her sexuality and highlighting the hypocrisies of patriarchal society. The boys compete for her attention, and though the hotel room occasionally becomes overcrowded, the three of them form a special bond.
As well as being young, it becomes apparent Jimmy and Keith are also too naïve to conceptualise the reality of war. They don’t see the ‘the japs’ as humans. All Jimmy seems to know about them is they eat too much rice. Keith talks about war as if it is a footy match, and killing is just part of barracking for your side.
The play becomes much more dynamic when Jimmy and Keith are faced with another side of war. They visit a fellow comrade Les (Sam Duncan), who is in a navy hospital suffering from post-traumatic stress. In 1945, the year the play is set, bed-rest and some sedatives were what the doctor prescribed for such trauma.
Certain words like ‘brave’ and ‘duty’ trigger memories and violent reactions in Les, which leave Jimmy, Keith and the audience speechless. These displays of honesty and real emotion provide a nice balance against the more comic-driven scenes played out between Jimmy, Keith and Lorna.
Young & Jackson was written by Don Reid as a prequel to his play Codgers. The script is full of innuendo and larrikin banter, and is compelling in the way it captures a moment in Australia’s history through the eyes of these innocent characters. Unfortunately, despite an epilogue, which ties up all the loose ends, it is quite simplistic in its conclusion, and could have addressed the broader significance of the war ending.
Directed by Wayne Harrison, the staging and set design are very effective. The audience are seated at tables and chairs in the centre of the space, watching the action unfold on either side. With Chloe illuminated above a bar situated at one end, you feel like you’re at happy hour at the Melbourne pub. Even more so with the sound of trams in the background, the actors interacting with patrons, and the incredible tableaux of Flinders Street Station draped across the wall.
This play has a lot of heart and humour, and suitably raises a glass to the pub and the special role it played in Melbourne’s history.
Young & Jackson
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 10 March 2015 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 22 March 2015
Information and bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Jacob Machin, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Charlie Cousins in Young & Jackson – photo by Sarah Walker
Review: Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones has gained extensive experience over the past seven years both in the UK and Australia working as an editor for Australian Times, and a freelance reviewer for Everything Theatre and FilmDude. He was also an assessor for the Off West End Theatre Awards known as The Offies, and created KangRooviews a website promoting Australian performing arts in the UK.