On the Docks
Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Ian Hanger Recital Hall
December 4 – 6
“On the Docks” is a debut musical theatre work that tells the tale of a young girl, Rachel, who wants more than anything to ‘write her own story’ and travel to the UK, but feels trapped due to family pressures; her single Union Rep dad is caught up in an industrial dispute with his shipping company employer.
Trouble is brewing on the docks from the opening number which establishes the mood and setting and prepares the audience for the forthcoming themes. And the subsequent story is easy to follow, despite the inclusion of some superfluous characters and unconvincing storyline distractions, such as the attempts of small-town journalist Pamela (Marybeth Harvey) trying to get a hold of the story behind the industrial troubles. Aside from this, its pacing and blue-collar David and Goliath themes are instantly recognisable as musical staples (think an Australian “Billy Elliot” without the dancing), making it an entertaining but not entirely foreign journey into new theatre territory.
While the standard of performance varies somewhat, the primary players all acquit themselves well. Luke Hodgson anchors the story as Gordon, a man caught up in a range of struggles, both personal and professional. As his daughter Rachel, Pia Frangiosa is appropriately wide-eyed with innocence but frustrating in her naivety (she is unfamiliar with the concept of Euros, despite having long planned for a trip and obtained a Visa). While strong in her dramatic moments, in early songs her voice is timid in expression of softer notes, especially when compared to the strong large ensemble numbers. Conversely, as union/employer co-between Gordon, Josh Daveta shows a powerful singing voice, even if the script’s ocker vernacular of slang and dropped g’s doesn’t sit easily on his dialogue tongue.
The show’s original musical numbers are placed comfortably within the work, with smooth transition from dialogue to song for heightened emotion and dramatic reinforcement, and are a credit to Composer Rex J Ablettt and Musical Director and Pianist Luke Volker. Act One’s ‘Here to Stay’ about Gordon and David’s conflict between social conscience and wages, is a highlight, reflecting a rhythm and tone not unlike that of ‘This Jesus Must Die’ from the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Other standouts are ensemble numbers, including a cameo ode to drink, ‘Fill Her Up’ led by Belinda Hanne Reid as local café owner (and Rachel’s employer) Lynn and a rousing, emotional Act One closer, ‘Here to Stay’.
Australian musicals have historically been a neglected area of funding and support, which makes it all the more creditable to the show’s producers to get the work up and running, even if only in this initialist of forms. The result, as evidenced by the production’s first public performance, is an exciting one, for “On the Docks” could easily take its place as a mainstage production, full of drama, emotion and a range of memorable musical moments to be embraced by audiences looking for an intimate take on its big real-life events.