Michael Tuahine thought up the idea of writing this fictionalised version of the life of Aboriginal entertainer and activist Jimmy Little, the first Aboriginal entertainer to appear on television, and what a great idea it was. The show provided a great night of the joyful retelling the life of a man who not only entertained but inspired and after suffering from kidney disease for many year formed the Jimmy Little Foundation to help remote indigenous communities cope with similar situations.
The play also taught me a lot about the attitudes of society back in the 50s and 60s and even later. I arrived in this country in 1970 and had no ideas that US style segregation went on. Jimmy the entertainer was allowed into pubs and clubs to entertain the white fellas, but his fellow Aboriginal weren’t allowed to come in and watch. I mentioned this to Michael at the after party and he said that was one of the points of the show – to remind and inform people of the stories from the past.
It was not a lecture though; the situations were played out with humour and honesty and at time were profoundly moving.
There were many people at the opening night of this delightful new play that only had a vague idea who Jimmy Little was – me included. But at the end we all knew exactly, who he was, what he stood for and how he lived his life. This was thanks to a good script, an amazing ensemble of actor/musicians and brilliant singing. They ranged from the experienced and versatile David Page to QTC debutante Megan Sarmardin, with Tibian Wyles – who created a convincing character in world champion boxer and singer Lionel Rose among others – Elaine Crombie and super keybpard exponent Bradley McCaw.
Then of course we had Michael Tuahine starring as the man himself. He created a magnetic figure on stage and crossed all the musical styles with a fine voice.
The show is part musical, part documentary and 100 per cent entertainment, with a range of music from cowboy songs to rock’n’roll and a range of offbeat characters played by the ensemble
Jimmy was born James Oswald Little on 1 March 1937, a member of the Yorta Yorta people with his mother, Frances, a Yorta Yorta woman and his father, James Little Sr, from the Yuin people. Jimmy Little Senior was a tap dancer, comedian, musician, and singer who led his own vaudeville troupe along the Murray River during the 1930s and 1940s. His mother was a singer and yodeller and had joined Jimmy Senior’s troupe. We had an hilarious look at this troupe courtesy of the cast. Jimmy grew up, as the oldest of seven children, on the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River in New South Wales about 30-km from Echuca in Victoria and as we saw, was in love with entertaining from very early on when he sneaked into the whites only hall to watch his father’s gang at work. From the end of the 1970s, he turned from his musical career to focus on his family and becoming qualified as a teacher and later into acting.
So we saw Jimmy’s triumphs and tragedies – and the defining moment in his career that really brought home to racism his people encountered day to day. The story ended there with a rousing finale that had the audience on its feet, clapping and swaying to the music, followed by long rousing cheers and applause. This was another fine piece of direction from Wesley Enoch. Brisbane is going to miss his talents when he leaves for Sydney.
Company: Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: 4 July 4 – 9 August 2015
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television