The Life, Tales, Trials, Sentencing and Execution of Clarke the Flying Barber
March 22 - April 6 at the Richard Wherrett Studio, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay
This is a work of great importance, beautifully written and impossible to ignore.” - Sydney Arts Guide
Australian theatre and history are re-imagined in a provocative new Australian musical revue.
This is the remarkable, true story of a runaway convict, life with tribes in the bush, magistrates, a leading government explorer and a landowner.
Told in the manner of a travelling theatre company of the time, on the eve of the execution of the convict.
Underneath an entertaining surface layer the work has a sharp edge probing values in the past and today.
Genres are inverted, history upended with visions of early Australia that resonate with current debates.
Written by Geoffrey Sykes (Out of Africa, Somewhere South, Tales of Kabbarli) and featuring a strong cast
that steals its way through a rollicking, fast paced Australian story.
Australia Felix was showcased in December 2023 at the Chippen Street Theatre, where it received enthusiastic audience and critical response.
Sykes, also director of the work, says that the studio space is well suited to this theatre piece.
“This revue show is presented by ‘travelling players’ in the tradition of ballads and storytelling.
"It’s set on the eve of the execution of the convict George Clarke with the sandstone and brick wall of the studio
a perfect ambient setting for a nineteenth century jail - where executions were public events.”
Theatrically, the work is inspired by Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss. “The ending is as moving as it is edifying,” Geoffrey says.
“It deliberately uses an entertaining convention to re-open questions of history. And it’s based on a true story.”
There were a good number of runaway convicts in the early colony of NSW, and this play concerns the life of one of them.
George Clarke, also known as “The Flying Barber”, lived with nine aboriginal tribes.
Like other successful runaways, he proved a great explorer, and his claims to have found a great inland river came to the attention of Thomas Mitchell,
the NSW Surveyor-General.
Clarke was given a reprieve from punishment as a bushranger while Mitchell went off on a full expedition based on Clarke’s advice and maps.
The play embellishes the tale of Clarke - and his later life at Norfolk Island and Van Diemen’s land where he was ultimately executed -
as a fable of Australian identity and values. The debate between the two explorers moots ideas that resonate today.
Australia Felix is written and directed by Geoffrey Sykes, with songs by Steve Wood;
Assistant director and musical director Kate Stewart and starring Mark Alexander, Rick Butler, Tisha Kelemen, Freya Moore and Kate Stewart.
Visual design by Aschara Pothmann and Jonathon King.
“An absorbing, insightful and intriguing play. This unique play reopens some critical questions about who can tell
and how do we understand our shared history … with some ever-challenging moral questions on being Australian.” (Sydney Arts Guide)
Playscript presents Australia Felix by Geoffrey Sykes
Fri 22 and Sat 23 March, Fri 5 and Sat 6 April at 7.30pm plus Sat 6 April at 2.30pm
Running Time: 2 hours with interval
Richard Wherrett Studio, Roslyn Packer Theatre - Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay
Book at https://www.trybooking.com/
Roslyn Packer Theatre @ 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW 2000, Australia