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The Age: Young & Jackson

See article in its original context here by John Bailey The Age.

Young & Jacksons: A tribute to a Melbourne pub celebrating 140 years

Harking back: Young & Jackson looks back at when the old guys from Codgers were young. Photo: Sarah Walker

Wayne Harrison is no stranger to the world stage. He’s directed the closing ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the New Year’s Eve Celebrations on Sydney Harbour, and these days when he’s not at home in London he’s jetting across the US directing the Spiegelworld productions in New York and Las Vegas.

It puts him in good stead to comment on the changes his youthful stomping ground of Melbourne has undergone over the decades.

“In Vegas everything has a shelf life of 25 years and in Sydney they managed to destroy all the Victorian and Edwardian theatres, whereas Melbourne very sensibly kept them,” he says. “I think that distinguishes Melbourne. But I have to say that the city I come back to now and enjoy immensely is very different to the one that I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s been completely transformed.”

One of his Spiegelworld outings, Absinthe, opens at Crown this month, but he’s really here to direct a play centred on a Melbourne institution that would spur riots were it ever to be torn down for redevelopment. Young & Jackson Hotel celebrates its 140th anniversary this year, and Harrison is at the helm of the world premiere of a new work named after the venerated old pub.

The show tracks the fortunes of three sailors in the closing days of World War II  and a mysterious woman who arrives in their lives. No, she’s not Chloe, though the painting indelibly associated with the hotel’s history of course makes an appearance.

“It seems to me a very Melbourne story,” says Harrison. “Lots of nitty-gritty details from the period are used as the argot of the play.”

There’s far more to it than nostalgia. “The great motivator is what war does to people. It disrupts their lives and then forces them to make choices about their futures. Sometimes they don’t actually know that they’re making those choices, but that’s what happens when they come to Melbourne.”

Though it works perfectly well as a stand-alone play, Young & Jackson is in fact a prequel to the very successful Codgers, a stage show and then film written by the late Don Reid. That piece “was based on [Reid’s] experience just hanging out with six old guys in a gym every Wednesday,” says Harrison, and was partly written to pay tribute to the senior playwright’s colleagues for whom work was increasingly thin on the ground.

The idea of a prequel came during the filming of Codgers: “We thought it might be fun to go back and see the origins of the main characters and how they got to be the people that they are. A little bit like Kid Stakes in relation to Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. I said to Don, if you write it I’ll direct it and produce it.

“He wrote it and unfortunately he passed 18 months ago, but he left the play and luckily it’s very high quality. Makes me laugh and moves me and so I thought I would honour my commitment to him to put it on.”

Young & Jackson runs until March 22 at fortyfivedownstairs.


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