Writer: Campion Decent
Director: Kim Hardwick
Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre
February 11-28, 2020
The award-winning play The Campaign brings the courageous and determined struggle by Tasmania’s LGBTQI activists to repeal their state’s harsh and archaic anti-gay legislation to the mainland.
Part of the 2020 Mardi Gras Festival, The Campaign, based on interviews and to a large extent verbatim in form, is a testimony to the way in which communities can undergo a fundamental shift from angry and fearful rejection of difference to acceptance and inclusion.
The play takes up the story at a crisis moment in 1988 at the Salamanca Market, Hobart. When the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group defies a ban on a stall displaying petitions for the decriminalisation of sexual activity between consenting male adults in private, some 130 activists are arrested in the following months.
In an amusing choreographed sequence, the ensemble of actors – Simon Croker, Matthew Lee, Madeleine MacRea, Tim McGarry and Jane Phegan – show the folly of such a ban as they challenge the Yellow Line, a strategy intended by the Hobart City Council to prevent support of the stall.
Council action served only to ignite an almost 20-year-long campaign. The small ensemble voice the perspectives of various participants from Rodney Croomes’s mother (Jane Phegan) to a rather devious former Justice of the High Court Michael Kirby (Tim McGarry) as they take us through vitriolic public meetings, parliamentary debates, the ground-breaking submissions made to the United Nation Human Rights Committee (1994), preliminary hearings of the High Court of Australia (1996) and repeal by the Tasmanian Parliament (1997).
Among the assemblage of detail, several individual acts of individual bravery are highlighted with a few economical strokes. Bravely, Croome and Nick Toonen (Simon Crocker) hand themselves into the police after making statuary declarations of their then illegal sexual activities. By focusing on the detective’s interrogation of the two men, the seriousness of the crime – at that time punishable by a 21-year prison term – is made apparent while at the same time showing the law’s approach to be totally absurd.
Heroic also is the sweetly idealistic young lesbian mother (Madeline MacRae) who has decided to give her support to the gay cause. Her role, while offering a moment of comical tenderness as she packs her bag with baby supplies before she sets off, also illustrates the inhumanity of the law as she is arrested along with her baby and shut up in an unventilated police van. Again, a G&S indebted number (McGarry and ensemble) brings to mind the courage of the Stonewall drag queens who fronted the New York police in the late ’60s.
While honest chronicling is interwoven with some breezy and funny musical chants, and the message that radical change is always possible given commitment and courage is uplifting, there is some loss of dramatic energy after the three-quarter mark. However, the glitzy ending is fully justified by the remarkable achievement the performance so faithfully records.