Jack Charles v The Crown – a story of recovery and atonement

Jack Charles v The Crown is a one-man show from actor and activist Jack Charles who talks about his life of abuse, addiction and prision cells as well as pottery, performance, recovery and atonement. He does so with immense wit and charm so as to put the audience at ease while presenting what is often a pretty devastating tale.

It’s a highly personal and heartbreaking story and one that begins with him being, “Plucked from my mother’s breast, I grew up absolutely ignorant of my Aboriginal heritage.” Jack is a survivor of Australia’s ‘Stolen Generations’ and he’s certainly not had an easy ride over his seven decades on this Earth as a result – 20 of which he spent in jail. His institutionalised life started much earlier though, as the only Aboriginal child in a boy’s home in Melbourne.

The 75-minute show begins with projections of Jack injecting heroin in his 2008 documentary ‘Bastardy’ while on stage he calmly molds a pot on a potter’s wheel. He learned pottery in prison and it has proved, he tells us, to be one of his saviors. Jack’s a small man with a fantastic head of white hair and big bushy beard. He’s articulate, poetic and charismatic on stage; a likable and upbeat man who found solace in performance “I do find a tribe of sorts: I luck across the new theatre mob.” To the opposite side of the stage is a band (Guitar & Violin – Nigel MacLean, Percussion – Phil Collings and Bass – Mal Beveridge) who provide both a complementary accompaniment to his monologues as well as entertaining performance alongside Charles’ musical numbers.

Ultimately this show is Jack addressing ‘The Crown’ asking for a clean slate, a do-over, the chance to be who he always could or should have been. He wants to travel, educate and help others – including his own family, however, his criminal record prohibits him from achieving much of this. We learn of his diagnosis of PTSD and the lifelong effects his childhood has had on the man he became so, he pleads, will The Crown allow him the rest of his life without criminality hanging heavy over his head?

It’s only in recent years that the real effects of the brutal and immoral actions inflicted on the stolen generations have had on Aboriginal people and Austrailian society as a whole. Much of what Jack would have encountered and endured during his life is only alluded to here but enough is revealed for the audience to gain an insight into the hard life of this extraordinary person. Written by Jack Charles and John Romeril, this piece of theatre allows for one man’s story to be expressed in an open, honest and, at times, a surprisingly humorous way.

Jack Charles is an excellent raconteur, musician and all round loveable guy. In Jack Charles v The Crown he’s invited us all to share in what we’d all wish to be his much-deserved appeasement and reparation.

Jack Charles v The Crown is on at Q Theatre until 18 March as part of Auckland Arts Festival.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.