Slip ups in History: Review of Decorum and SITCO’s LEGEND!
Prominent Wentworthian Pat Sheil has written a play called Legend!. Those familiar with Sheil’s persistent campaigns to get elected to the federal parliament have probably been eagerly awaiting this world premiere. Legend! is history according to “Slips” Cordon, and he’s got the dirt on every cherished Aussie icon – from Dame Nellie Melba in 1908 through to Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975, he was there for all of it.
As a piece of theatre, Sheil has given director Lex Marinos and actor John Derum no easy task. Slips is the only character on stage and there is no real plot, instead the play is solely reliant on Slips’ ability to spin a yarn. This is difficult to maintain for 80 minutes. However, they largely do, and marvelously so. In many ways the play is reminiscent of Alan Bennett’s absurd lectures on T. E. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf from Beyond the Fringe. One by one Slips takes each of our most beloved national icons and tears them down. Bradman was a really a nervous wreck who couldn’t lift a bat to save his life, Simpson with his donkey was a two-timing swindler and Phar Lap … well, let’s just say Phar Lap didn’t quite meet the end we all thought he did.
In the process we come to question just how much we actually know about the myths that make up a large part of the Australian identity. True, Sheil is in for a bit of piss-taking (another proud Aussie tradition), so we shouldn’t take Legend! too seriously. Nevertheless, it is true that when we scratch beneath the surface of any myth we quickly discover that maybe they weren’t everything we believed. In the end the stories we create for ourselves are far more revealing of whom we are than the truth ever is. Legend! squarely reminds us of this, doing it in a very lighthearted fun way.
For the benefit of our younger readers, John Derum has been acting for over 50 years on the Australian stage, in film and on television (credits include the Aunty Jack Show). Here we find him tackling the cantankerous “Slips” Cordon, a fictional Australian legend and the very embodiment of Australia’s collective hate for the tall poppy syndrome. Derum takes comedic flight as Slips and enjoys every moment with the poise of an artist. One might comment that Derum needed to give us more time to adjust to Slips manner of speaking – what with his tendency to crash words into one another – though the audience grew accustom to this as the show continued. Overall however, Derum was a joy to watch: he took on what is essentially a very extreme caricature and made it believable, no small order especially when you’re alone on stage.
Legend! plays more like a collection of sketches than as a traditional piece of theatre, having said that it is a fun 80 minutes full of laughs. Get along for some iconoclasm if you can. Legend! is playing at the Old Fitzroy theatre until the 15th of February, for more information see: http://www.sitco.net.au/