Music, drama, space and politics

May 29, 1991

Black Cargo
Melbourne Workers Theatre
Anthill Theatre, South Melbourne
Reviewed by David Adamson

Based on the short story of the same name by John Morrison, himself a wharfie for 10 years in the '30s and '40s, this play has been adapted by John Romeril and composer Irine Vella for Melbourne Workers Theatre. First workshopped in 1990, it was previewed by retired waterside workers before going into full production.

It's a musical and the first conventional theatre production for MWT, a company based in the Jolimont Railway Workshops. The production itself is unconventional and challenging. The set transforms the whole theatre into a waterfront complete with ships, cargo and workers, and the whole audience is integrated into the action.

It is based on the true events of a 1949 rank-and-file strike in solidarity with striking Canadian seafarers. Against the wishes of the union leadership, Melbourne wharfies refused to unload a ship crewed by scab sailors. The story also focusses on the fight between the left-wing secretary of the Seamen's Union and the right-wing secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation.

It's a rewarding combination of music, drama, space and politics. n

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