What makes one’s life fortunate? Is it finding joy in the everyday, or reflecting back over decades well-spent? Or both – they are not mutually exclusive concepts, after all. Albert Facey (1894 – 1982) was perhaps one of the most optimistic men to have ever lived. He took that dash between his birth and death dates and elongated it into the most robust and fulfilling experience a man could ever ask for during his time on earth. In his 1981 autobiography, Facey relays his life from whipping boy of exploitative farmers, to war hero, husband, father, and galvanising figure for worker’s rights and justice. Facey marvelled at the response his book received – mostly because he never saw anything remarkable about himself.
Fast-forward to 2020, where an intrepid group of theatre-makers reinvent the story of an ordinary man’s extraordinary life. A Fortunate Life is an experience like no other – housed in regional and semi-regional cinemas across Western Australia, the show is a unique intertwining of the best elements of theatre, film, music, and immersion. WA theatre company, THEATRE 180 and CinemaStage present the piece on a stage in front of a cinema screen – so you can get the popcorn and drinks to accompany this sweeping epic narrative, a theme so cinematic it marries perfectly with its setting. At first, I was worried the show would just be a play set in front of projected scenes but I am happy to announce how wrong that impression was!
Yes, the action takes place on the stage but also on the screen. The show is framed around a film that plays throughout – with stunning visuals that at times serve as a backdrop, and sometimes advance the plot. There are letters written in voices back and forth, the inimitable birdsong and sounds of the bush, and real photographs and images from Facey’s life. Sound designer, Ben Collins and composer Ron Siemiginowski weave the everyday sounds and background noise of a lifetime and create emotions evocative of memory and loss – of a life lived. The audiovisuals by Green Man Media enhance the experience tenfold – this is no mere backdrop, it is an immersion. With such flawless sound, lighting, and visuals the piece serves as a film fully realised in flesh and blood – as though the actors have stepped out of the screen and are viscerally immediate to the audience.
Adapted for stage by Director Stuart Halusz and writer Jenny Davis, the full experience is brought to life by a dream cast of heavy-hitting actors. Michael Abercromby, Ben D’Addario and Rebecca Davis all take turns bringing the diverse cast of characters from across Facey’s lifetime to light. Halusz’ brilliant direction sees the play flow from childhood to adulthood, Australian bush land to war-torn Gallipoli, loveable larrikins to horrible bitter characters. A Fortunate Life could so easily have been a linear chronological narrative, but Halusz and Davis ingeniously switch between the reminiscing Albert and the story he his telling about that portion of his life. This device maintains the integrity of the piece and cements Facey’s blind optimism despite the many hardships he faced.
The acting here is wonderful – several times different actors portray the same person and inhabit the previous actor’s mannerisms and inflection. Abercromby and D’Addario’s portrayal of Facey’s mother is bang on – both actors perfecting her cruel turn of lip, contemptuous tone, and haughtiness – they both evoke unsympathetic woman, and at no point does it feel like a caricature or drag-act. Davis shines as the young Albert – her youthful approach and boundless energy spills over into the audience, and one cannot help but love the playful young scamp. The Aussie voice is one that has changed somewhat with each generation, and each actor navigates that evolution effortlessly. Dinky-di ocker language and Gallipoli slang come naturally without sounding trite. There’s no swearing, no vulgar language – just plain, honest dialogue. This combines with Facey’s sunshiny character to keep the smile on your face and the tears flowing at the end.
A Fortunate Life is the natural evolution of cutting-edge technology and humble theatre-making. It’s familiar to Australians without being false. It lauds the Aussie spirit but doesn’t sugar coat the hardships. This show has everything – endearing characters, love, loss, devastating heartache, humour, Australian truisms, and at its core – heart. It takes the changing face of the twentieth-century and calls upon all of the traditions and technology seen from each decade to create something that is truly the next step in theatre. Hearkening back to the man playing the piano as the film reel ticked along in the background, A Fortunate Life takes a twentieth-century story and gives it the twenty-first-century treatment.
REVIEW | Laura Money
WHEN: 28th August – 13th September 2020 | Times vary
WHERE: Ace Cinemas | Rockingham
INFO: Duration 1hr 45m | Tickets $36.50 – $41.50 | Live theatre | Screens & projection | Suitable 10+