Jack Charles vs The Crown – A Review

Are you one of those people that never wins anything? You know, you enter a competition to win a holiday to Fiji and 10,000 other people enter, you’ve referred five friends, clogging their inboxes with spam when the probability of you actually winning anything is probably…oh, almost a slim to none chance? Or you run a small raffle amongst the staff at your school for a bottle of wine and still nothing?

I hear ya. That is me all over. Ms, I-Never-Have-Any-Luck.


I am a firm believer in, “you’ve got to be in it to win it” so I enter everything regardless and drag everyone’s e-mail accounts through the ringer.

Lucky for me, it finally paid off with me scoring two complimentary tickets to Belvoir St Theatre’s new play Jack Charles vs The Crown!

Not knowing anything about the play, I had no expectations heading into it. The play opened with a long video sequence, projected onto a set resembling a potter’s workshop. On stage was Jack Charles, turning a wheel and making a small clay pot. The images in the footage were shocking. A slightly younger Jack Charles, injecting himself with drugs. Calm and collected his expression never changes. Not before, not during, not after.

From here the story progresses into a one man monologue, told by Jack about his life. From his time at the mission home, his becoming acquainted with his Aboriginal heritage and his spiral into drugs and addiction which led to a life of crime and a cycle of gaol time.

Jack Charles is likeable as he tells us of his life. At times it is difficult to understand him whether muffled by his beard or his speech just naturally slurred . His musical interludes where he sings, accompanied by a three piece band on stage, breaks and links his story into its various chronological parts.His skills as a potter manifest very well on stage. Much of his storytelling seemed repetitive. I’m not sure whether that was intended by both Charles and John Romeril, the writer’s of the play. It gave me the impression that they were wanting to impress this idea of reptition and the cyclical nature of the indigenous people’s lives during the 70’s, making the final scene, where Jack is speaking to the parole board, even more poignant.

Jack Charles vs The Crown is, on one level, a reminder of the effects of the Stolen Generation but even more universally the ability of the human spirit to be resilient and overcome hardship. Jack’s ability to finally convince the parole board and make a life for himself that is uniquely his, independent and drug free, is uplifting.

This play is an excellent example of Contemporary Australian Theatre Practice and combines some of that with Verbatim Theatre. The use of technologies such as video and musicians on stage adds a new dimension to the modern theatre landscape. The fact that Charles talks directly to us, the audience for the entire piece is something unique about the way theatre is changing and progressing. It’s direct and in your face without being pushy or preachy. At no more than 90 minutes in length, these new types of plays are engaging with our shorter attention spans and getting straight to the point without missing out on capturing themes and issues relevant to Australians and the wider theatre going audience.

Image Credits:

Crown Jewels II, Stephen B Whatley, Licensed under Creative Commons