Space Theatre 6-16 Feb 2008
A Local Man is the story of Australia’s 16th Prime Minister, Ben Chifley.
Based on factual events, with elements of poetic license to move the story along the monologue, with Tony Barry in the title role, is an insight into the very public, well documented and transparent ‘political’ career of Ben Chifley, as well as his feelings, thoughts and less scrutinized private life.
The evening is set in Chifley’s modest Bathurst home in 1951, 2 months after the Labor defeat by Menzies and just prior to his death. It’s Saturday evening, his wife Elizabeth is out for the day playing Bridge with friends, and Chifley is working at home, preparing his retirement speech – likely to be delivered at tomorrow’s Labor conference. He records into a Dictaphone, switching back and forth between the speech and his intended political memoir, leaving reference points for his secretary Phyllis. Chifley is not well, suffering from what his family calls ‘the usual’. He is on his second heart attack, having already outlived his father and grandfather in years, both of whom also died from heart failure – thus coining the phrase.
This is a pragmatic portrayal of a flawed hero, which reveals both his successes and failings, notably the development of the national airline Qantas, The Joint Coal Board, restructuring and expansion of the CSIRO, the Australian National University and the development of the Holden car. But also as Prime Minister, the ‘unionist hero’ who sent in the army to break up the coalminers' strike instigated by the Union he formed, and the bank nationalisation disaster and subsequent ‘communist challenge’, that cost him government in 1949.
Tony Barry is poignant and affecting as Chifley – jumping from political strength to personal anguish. Images are projected cleverly onto a screen to let the audience visually reminisce with Chifley as he tells his story, and music is used to translate emotions felt by the hardened and firmly grounded former Prime Minister. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has created a beautiful light-scape which helps the show along, highlighting appropriately where the story is coming from and in some cases where the story is going – a power outage twice in the show allows for the comic in Chifley to come out, as he declares to the darkness “bloody Liberal Government!”
Barry is clearly passionate about the message that audiences will take from the portrayal of this honorable and idealistic man. He addresses the audience after production, vowing to take the show on the road and spread the good that this one man had done. He proclaims in finale “Australia needs another Chifley” and in Chifley’s words “Fight for the right, and truth and justice will always prevail.”