Image from Ginger Mick at Gallipoli, by Australian Classical Theatre

“The cast is inventive, compelling and enthusiastic, their performances vital and visceral. Their timing is impeccable and they take us on a rollicking ride.” — Kate Herbert, The Herald Sun

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Ginger Mick at Gallipoli

Combining larrikin humour, pathos and Dennis’ unique slang verse, this show is an original adaptation of the book diggers famously carried in their breast pockets during World War One. It tells of Ginger’s exploits and the mates he makes whilst serving in the ‘little AIF’.

An image from Ginger Mick at Gallipoli

The Story

C.J. Dennis wrote The Moods of Ginger Mick in 1916, as a tribute to ‘the boys who took the count’ in the Great War.

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli is an original dramatization of this collection of poems that tells the tale of the eponymous hero and his Anzac mates in Turkey. So popular was Billo’s best man that Dennis shipped him off to fight for king and country.

Combining Larrikin humour with pathos, and written in Dennis’ unique slang, the play recounts the acts of courage and sacrifice endured by the diggers on the Dardenelles campaign. We witness Ginger’s change of attitude toward the war and his eventually enlisting; and we accompany him through the training drills and his first taste of battle on Sari Bair.

Along the way we meet some dinky di Aussie characters including Snifty Green of Sydney, Lofty Craig of Queensland and the hilarious Smiff of Collingwood. Dennis shocked his readership by having them all die. Even Ginger himself is killed in action.

An image from Ginger Mick at Gallipoli

Production

Using an all male cast doubling (and at times trebling) characters, the show is a perfect example of the ensemble non-naturalistic style. Billo the bloke, now aged, wakes on Anzac Day morning and prepares to visit the grave of his old mate Ginger. As he opens his box of letters the memories come flooding back, and he recounts the time his best mate answered the ‘call of stoush’ and went to war.

Each poem is begun by a wartime song in keeping with the theme, including ‘Tipperary’, ‘Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major’ and ‘This is the Army Mr Jones’. Music hall inspired dance routines also bring the concert party feel vibrantly to life.

The production premiered at the Fitzroy Town Hall on Anzac Day 2006, then played a season at fortyfivedownstairs, before embarking on a two week tour of Victorian theatres in 2006 and a return season at fortyfivedownstairs in 2007.

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli was also included on the theatre studies list for VCE students and extracts were performed as the key note speech at the History Teachers Annual Conference in 2007. A shortened 1 hour version played to school audiences across Victoria in 2008 and 2009 under the auspices of Regional Arts Victoria’s arts2GO program.

An image from Ginger Mick at Gallipoli

Reviews & Interviews

Kate Herbert, The Herald Sun

It is no easy task to effectively transform verse from the page into theatrical form. Petty Traffikers successfully adapt some of C.J. Dennis’s World War One verses, The Moods of Ginger Mick, into rambunctious physical theatre and people the stage with a parade of characters.

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli, with a cast of four under Stewart Morritt’s slick direction, vibrates with masculine energy, larrikin humour and Aussie slang. At the centre of a parade of iconic, early 20th century Australian men is Ginger Mick (Joe Clements), a cheerful, roguish petty crim and rabbitto from Footscray who writes home to his mate (Bruce Kerr) from the battle front in Turkey.

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Thy On, The Australian

At times it feels as though the contemporary theatre scene is busily importing four star hits and salivating over celebrity actors or trying to develop a stable of sexy, young post-modern playwrights. Thanks heavens, then, for Australian Classical Theatre’s devotion to dusting off the cobwebs from Australia’s literary heritage.

…their performances were captivating.

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Helen Thomson, The Age

Morritt’s cast is impeccably appropriate here. They give a hugely energetic, suitably comic rendition of Dennis’ verse. Bruce Kerr acts as narrator, and the verse is broken up by dramatic interpolations form the characters. They also frequently break into song such as Tipperary, Wish me Luck and Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major, which in themselves tell much of the story of lonely men sent to alien places to fight a war they barely understood.

The energy and adrenaline levels are exhilarating, and the choreography remarkable, achieving miracles of suggestive physical narrative in a very small space. The production gives the original iconoclastic version a rough-hewn masculinity and physical dimension that has a powerful impact.

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Michael Dwyer, The Age: Interview

Stewart Morritt has always been a sucker for the classics: The Merchant of Venice, Bleak House, Lady Chatterleyv’s Lover. In that kind of company, Ginger Mick seems a slightly wretched colonial cousin. But perhaps that’s more cultural cringe than literary analysis.

‘I skirt around the phrase “The Australian Shakespeare”, but that’s the level I responded to (Dennis’) writing on,’ says the director of Melbourne’s Petty Traffikers theatre company. ‘That’s what I did in England and it’s all I ever wanted to do—join the Royal Shakespeare Company and do verse poetry.’

That was before the Yorkshire thespian moved to Melbourne 10 years ago and stumbled on a copy of The Sentimental Bloke…

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Bill Perrett, The Sunday Age

Ginger Mick at Gallipoli combines some familiar and now somewhat dated representations of masculinity and dinky di nationalism with some questions of contemporary relevance. Why is it that we feel compelled to head off to wars in far away places at the behest of great and powerful states?

This is a rambunctious and gloriously physical staging of the story, presented with war time songs and large amounts of wonderful clowning. There’s a fairly minimalist set in the Spartan space and what the audience seated on both sides of the action gets is a close up look at good actors plying their trade. They’re very funny, and the ensemble work is strong.

Kerr is a fine bloke, O’Connor and Annis are wonderful in a range of minor parts, and Clements is perfect as Mick. It is impossible not to like this production.

Peter H. Kemp, Variety.com

A boisterously physical dramatization of a revered Australian classic poem, Ginger Mick at Gallipoli is a lean but keen and inventive piece that vibrates with the considerable energy of its four man strong cast.

Dynamically directed by Stewart Morritt, this is invigorating entertainment…

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Elly Varrenti, Inpress Magazine

Ginger Mick and his mates carouse and collide their way through adversity and abject conditions whilst maintaining a rambunctious, self-deprecating stoicism. Morritt’s dramatic adaptation of Dennis’ famous story attacks the rhythm of the verse with great gusto, interspersing it with songs from the period.

This is good old fashioned story telling. The staging and direction are uncluttered, unpretentious and loyal to the source material, whilst allowing the four highly competent and energetic performers to strut, sing and rejoice in Dennis’ celebratory and nationalistic ode to the ordinary Joe Hero.

The show is fun, touching at times, and the company’s commitment is impressive.