Theatre with a difference


By Melanie Sjoberg

MELBOURNE — Striding across the railway tracks into the grime and clatter of the Jolimont Train Maintenance Depot is an unusual way to get to a theatre. This is, however, the home of the Melbourne Workers Theatre.

"Theatre for, with and about working class people" is the slogan of MWT and its founders, Steve Payne and Michael White. "This means seeking out and telling the stories of ordinary people involved in the struggle to lead a decent life."

Some four years after its founding, MWT has consolidated itself as a professional team with strong links to the trade union movement.

MWT was the first company to perform at the National Tennis Centre — from the back of a semi-trailer to about 150 building workers. It has also performed aboard the Abel Tasman at its berth in Port Melbourne. Most productions take place during lunch breaks at workplaces.

State of Defence, the first MWT production, was based on stories of workers around Jolimont. The combined shop committee had agreed to sponsor the group for an 18-week session.

Subsequent productions have included a play about women workers, Dusting Our Knees; Ballad of Lois Ryan, inspired by the death of Barbara Ryan in a textile factory; and The Aftermath, based on a survey of people involved in the SEQEB lockout, Rosella picket line and Victorian nurses' strike. More recently, MWT co-produced Nidgera, on Aboriginal people, unions and work; and Taxi on migrants and racism.

The latest production, Black Cargo is MWT's first full-length musical performed in a theatre. It is based on a true story by John Morrison about a waterfront dispute in the early '50s. It will open at Anthill Theatre, South Melbourne, on May 23. A benefit night for Green Left Weekly will be held on May 31. Tickets at $16/$12 may be booked on 329 1320. n