Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 18 – 29, 2014
Playwright: Kieran Carroll
Director: Ron Hadley
Cast: Martin Portus, Matt Thomson
Image by Katy Green Loughrey
When a person commits their life to the arts, it is often a conscious decision to go against many societal expectations, and therefore, to become resolutely anti-conformist. Many struggle to make ends meet, and few achieve great critical success, yet there are those who persist through hardship, believing that it is their devotion to their art that provides the greatest meaning. Les Robinson was a Sydney writer who had had only one book published, The Giraffe’s Uncle, in 1933. Between the 1920s and 1960s, the eccentric figure lived a one-man bohemia in shacks and caves around the Sydney harbour, listening to records, fishing and of course, writing.
Kieran Carroll’s lovingly crafted play immortalises a forgotten soul, one whose stories provide us with insight into an unusual life, and a fresh perspective of the city that we love. Carroll’s work is deeply melancholic, but it is also wonderfully inspiring. We hear about iconic artists everyday, but to learn about one of the others, is unexpectedly comforting. The Les Robinson Story could easily be a depressing one, but Ron Hadley’s direction takes care to serve up the joy with the sorrow, always leading us to the light at the end of each dark tunnel. The depiction of time’s passage however, could be made clearer, in order for us to gain a more detailed impression of the character’s evolution.
Martin Portus is not a neglected writer living under a bridge, but the actor certainly makes us believe that he and Robinson are one and the same. The level of authenticity he achieves is the great beauty of this staging. Portus’ presence is strong and sturdy, and his eagerness to share this buried tale is quite moving. As with all great storytellers, we often find ourselves suspended in time with the performer, losing awareness of before and after, completely captivated by right now.
The Les Robinson Story might be about disappointments, loss and regret, but it will be remembered for the man’s spiritedness and his tenacity at living a life of truth and honesty. Robinson never pretended to be anything but his genuine self, and that alone trumps everything else.