Venue: Barangaroo Reserve (Barangaroo NSW), Jan 15, 2021
Music: Paul Mac
Lyrics: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Andrew Bukenya, Jacqui Dark, HANDSOME, Joyride, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire, Marcus Whale, Inner West Voices, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Images by Bianca De Marchi
English pop music legend George Michael passed away Christmas Day 2016. His death (and life) holds special meaning for the diverse and bohemian suburb of Newtown in Sydney, where a mural was painted soon after by graffiti artist Scott Marsh, on a wall outside the home of musician Paul Mac. Passengers on a busy train line would pass by many times every hour, watching a sanctified commemoration of St George, complete with spliff and beer bottle, as if blessing Sydneysiders from an ironic but unequivocally loving heaven.
It was a difficult time for Australia, leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum in Sep 2017. Our divisions had become severe and overt like never before, but there he was, St George with a Pride flag draped around his shoulders, in a mock religious style, providing comfort and reassurance. The gay icon had left behind an unparalleled legacy. Emanating from the spray painted image, were memories of his achievements, escapades and defiance, a constant reminder that all will be fine, in the midst of daily homophobic attacks on virtually every media platform.
Days after it was made official that marriage equality would come to pass, our beloved St George was defiled. Black paint was smeared all over what had quickly become a landmark, by Christian fundamentalists, who claimed it an insulting portrayal of Jesus Christ. Our community was left reeling. The artists went to work. The Rise And Fall Of Saint George is a collection of songs by Paul Mac and playwright Lachlan Philpott, documenting that assault on Newtown and Sydney’s queer community. It deals with trauma not only of that fateful moment, but is in fact, a meditation on the lifelong persecution suffered by all of us whose sexual and gender identities dare deviate from the straight and narrow.
Like Michael’s own music, the work here is consistently melancholic, whether the rhythms are buoyant or sentimental. Peppered with deeply affecting moments of Mac addressing the audience from his piano, with first-hand accounts of precious memories, the entire experience is a tender one. A choir (conducted by Emily Irvine) and solo singers perform each number with admirable passion, often with flamboyant embellishments, but always sincere in their approach. Video projections by Tony Melov are evocative enhancements offering invaluable flashbacks, that return us to some very emotional days.
From his early days hiding in the closet, afraid of the myriad devastating repercussions if found out, to a rejuvenated existence that is unapologetically loud and proud, the George Michael narrative is one that all in this community is intimately familiar with. Violence is nothing new to us, and the more we have to endure it, the more brilliant we shine.