What a refreshing contrast, Looking for Lawson is.
In a Fringe festival replenished with loud, flamboyant shows competing to get the loudest belly laughs, comes a piece that’s understated, dignified, pensive.
Looking for Lawson follows the life journey, through his poetry, of one of Australia’s iconic literary figures. In so many ways Lawson was a paradox.
On the one hand he was a rebel, hard drinker, anti-establishment and a man of the bush. And yet he wrote for the establishment magazine, The Bulletin and was celebrated in his lifetime.
He died a lonely, alcoholic’s death and yet his funeral was attended by thousands and his eulogy was delivered by the Prime Minister of the day.
This show opens with Courtney Murphy, one of the vocalists, inviting the audience, tongue in cheek, to sing ‘Australia’s national anthem’, Sons of the South.
The poem is a passionate call to arms for European Australians to turn their back on the land of ‘Lords and Queen’ and make Australia independent, free-thinking, idealistic. No mention of the indigenous population though.
From such optimistic beginnings Lawson’s poems, beautifully set to music by the John Thorn, embark on a journey that shows his love of Australia, especially its glorious bush (Reedy River), his empathy with the poor (Faces in the Street), his admiration for the daring free-spirits in the anarchic, Taking his Chances.
Other themes also surface, like the inability to communicate feelings, in the sad and humorous, Mary Called him Mister.
As the journey progresses the poetry becomes increasingly introspective, pessimistic. Lawson’s earlier preoccupations with the world and social justice turn to self-absorption.
The Wander Light is self-referential, Spirit Girl is about failed dreams, while Past Caring, delicately set to a music that echoes Erik Satie, is sad and self-pitying. That’s what remains of the rebellious spirit of Lawson’s youth.
The vocals are rendered by the warm, husky tones of Courtney Murphy, and the crystal clarity of Taryn Ryan’s voice. John Thorn’s arrangements are quite inspired.
This a is a show that deserves a good audience. It makes us think, without pontificating, about the dreams of Australia’s early colonizers and about who we have become in the times of Turnbull and Joyce.
Looking for Lawson runs until February 24.