Prehistoric sounds of a claustrophobic city

Prehistoric (Metro Arts and Elbow Room)

Metro Arts, Basement

November 20 – December 7

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‘Height of the civilised world this way’, one piece of graffiti on the Metro Arts alley wall proclaims as audience members are taken to see “Prehistoric”. Yet there could well have been no less apt descriptor to the show that awaited in the Basement.

Writer of “Fractions”, Brisbane born Marcel Dorney has once again ambitiously turned his attention to sharing some history, this time much closer to home. “Prehistoric” tells the story of four ‘part time punks’ living in Brisbane in the claustrophobic late 1970s, when disco is cancer, all the phones are tied to walls and history is yet to begin.  Beneath this daggy and comfortable façade, however, is the alternative 4ZZZ student activist.

The play considers this time in Brisbane history when, thanks to the Bjelke-Peterson police state,  it was illegal for people to form in congregations of three or more and when police were able to forcefully detain the general public for illegal activity. Indeed, it sounds familiar, which only made the reality of scenes of police task force intimidation all that more disturbing.

But this is a story, like its era, of thoughts as much as deeds, and what better way to share thoughts than through music; the play’s title comes from The Saints’ 1978 album, Prehistoric Sounds, which features the track Brisbane (Security City).

Thirteen hot nights in a row

Cars move past, but they move slow

A million people staying low…

Sir Bob Geldof once said that three bands changed the face of ‘70s rock music: The Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Saints. With this mind, “Prehistoric” presents a fitting soundtrack to its anthropological anecdote. And while “Prehistoric” is a strong ensemble piece, it is Anna Straker who gives a standout performance as lead singer Rachael, all Runways wide-eye punk and angular angst in the musical performances.

The Basement makes an apt venue for the grimly nostalgic story, stripped back to simplicity since I was last there seeing “A Western” as part of the Brisbane Festival. And the production makes interesting, impressive use of the nooks and crannies of the space, including a right angled setup of intimate audience seating.

Though this intimacy allows for some uncomfortably effective fourth wall breaks, it is a shame that this important Brisbane story is not being shared with more patrons. Although it is an act ‘of imagination’, it deserves a bigger audience, to share without mythologising, the violent, corrupt, oppressive history of our city as legacy of the Bjelke-Petersen years, as much as reminisce in the joys of the music from its burgeoning 1970s scene.

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