The Les Robinson Stroy – The bohemian life on Sydney’s shores. (Theatre review)

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The Les Robinson Story

The Old Fitzroy Theatre

18 – 29 November 2014 You can grab tickets here.

There’s no getting around it, we need our Bohemians. The bourgeoisie need them to feed their bereft imaginations, bankers and financiers need them to hate, the tourists need them to visit, politicians need them to ignore, the artists need them to aspire to, the wealthy elite need them to know they have ‘t gone too far (yet) and the working class need them for wonder and amusement. At some point all of us have fancied ourselves a true bohemian, whether it was in art school, inspired by one of the New Wave movements or slumped on our beds as a dressed-in-black-teen engulfed in the headphone inspired world of music, film, art or books. And yet, part of what defines a true bohemian is being ignored and misunderstood by the society that needs them so. It is a constant battle for the majority of artists to stick with their work and not give up as far fewer reach a position of recognition than have a talent that deserves to be seen, and problematically the ability to interpret society and reflect it back through writing or another art form, usually accompanies a certain intolerance for that society. Societies and cultures are easier to love from afar, and the natural bohemian is more often than not, addicted to a kind of solitude.

Les Robinson is one of these bohemian Australians, in love with the city he saw around him, though barely able to tolerate most of what it did; passionate about his writing and the importance of writing about something other than inland Australia, and yet only completing one small book of short stories; desperate for company and yet highly judgmental of the society around him. For someone who had create a life for himself that had so much time to do so much, he wrote very little prose, a great loss to this country I think. It seems a room of one’s own isn’t all it takes to write. For a writer such as Les, so devoted to living his life as he wanted, so disdainful of the lifestyles that prevented his writing, he was painfully influenced by negative criticism of his work, internalising it to build upon an already insecure foundation that seemed to result in a frustrating inertia. Les wrote articles, eking out a meager living as a free-lance journalist, but on the whole his output was remarkably thin given his passionate devotion to his work. Living in a small hut in suburban Sydney (he was against paying rent) he also lived on the coast in the caves, playing his gramophone on the rocks, always pushing against societies tide. To extend his bo-ho cred, he was part of the pre-Push crowd, Slessor, Dreamer and the Lindsay’s counted among his close friends, but the story as we have it, was more often than not, one of Les on his own, scribbling his notes and obsessing over his work.

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After being handed a copy of Robinson’s only published book, the Giraffes Uncle, Kieran Carroll decided to immortalise this Sydney character in a monologue devoted to the fascinating man’s memory. According to the program notes, this was only the start of the problems, as finding out more about Les Robinson was as difficult as pinning the man himself down, and the journey became quite the labor of love for Carroll. the efforts have paid off, not only in the beautiful show performed by Martin Portus but in the request for repeat performances, the current one at The Old Fitz now, as part of the final show for SITCO of the year. The story is punctuated with beautiful images of Sydney at the time of Les’s life, a narrative that spans about thirty years in this show, and soulful singing by Matt Thomson who works in with the images to anchor us in the time. It’s a gentle show, that wraps itself around a robust, deeply examined performance by Martin Portus who has now played Les so often, he has forged that great connection we see when actors come to manifest a personality. Under Ron Hadley’s direction the connection with the audience becomes intimate, filled with eye contact, warmth and the cry of a happy, but aching soul. The Les Robinson story is a tale that needs to be told to increase our joyful awareness of Australian culture and help us connect with the unique culture we have all built and grown together.

Read my interview with Martin Portus here. 

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