Melbourne Theatre Company: Jacky – Theatre Review

Written by Arrernte playwright Declan Furber Gillick and directed by Mark Wilson, Melbourne Theatre Company’s Jacky is a gripping story of culture, brotherhood, and capital that overflows with grit and sincerity. Developed from unused pieces of his 2018 play Bighouse Dreaming, Jacky stars Guy Simon in the title role with support from Ngali Shaw as his brother Keith, Greg Stone, and Alison Whyte.

Jacky is a young Aboriginal man who moved to Melbourne from up north. Handsome, independent, and struggling, Jacky has been working as a sex worker and cultural dancer since dropping out of university to afford the rent on his one-bedroom apartment in the city.

The lack of secure work interferes with his goal of buying his apartment, and to complicate matters further, he’s now become a guardian of sorts for his wayward younger brother, Keith. With help from recruiter Linda (Whyte), both Jacky and Keith land regular work but before long everything begins to unravel.

Jacky’s story is told largely across 3 locations, marked out on the square patch of stage in the Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Studio by a bed (the hotel room), a lounge and kitchenette (the apartment), and a bar table with stools that gets carried onto stage when needed (Molly’s Pub).

Each location manages to feel incredibly distinct despite audiences being able to see the shadows of the other set pieces, and occasionally the other actors, outside of a scene. Simon, who carries the most responsibility of the cast, weaves through these corners the most, showing a distinctly different version of Jacky in each one that creates a truly 3-dimensional and balanced character.

Through Jacky’s interactions with Linda and Keith, Gillick explores the concept of maintaining and losing one’s identity in a stolen land, with Linda representing Jacky’s life in Melbourne and Keith representing his life back home. Linda, though not explicitly a friend, has helped Jacky to establish himself since moving to Melbourne, getting him his first job at Molly’s Pub and then again at her own business running an indigenous community initiative.

Keith, unlike Jacky, unashamedly revels in being a young Blak man, often complaining of being mistreated or belittled for being Aboriginal and expressing concerns that Jacky’s not only lost touch with his roots but that his relationships with the white people in his life is making him forget the importance and richness of being a Blak man in white Australia.

Secondary to this, Gillick also explores the themes of fetishism and exoticism through Jacky’s relationship with Glenn (Stone). A client and Linda’s ex-husband, Glenn expresses a desire to engage in sexual relationships with black men, a contributing factor in their divorce. Glenn’s relationship with Jacky, like Linda’s, is purely transactional and Gillick writes it in such a way that leads audiences to feel comfortable seeing it play out, lulling them into a false sense of security until they’re forced to watch it devolve.

The whole relationship, though framed in the context of Jacky’s employment as a sex worker, raises questions about what elements of his identity Jacky is willing to change or embrace. He entered into the relationship knowing of Glenn’s fetish, questioning if he was “black enough”, then suddenly found that it wasn’t how dark the shade of his skin was that was important, but that he wasn’t white at all.

The dichotomy between Gillick’s supporting characters is an interesting one. Glenn and Linda look and feel familiar, giving the impression of being kind and caring, while Keith is presented as being boisterous, lazy, and abrasive despite being the only one who actually cares about seeing Jacky live his life with integrity.

By encouraging an erasure of culture and projecting a slave-master fantasy on Jacky, both Linda and Glenn have othered him, reducing him to the status of a minstrel useful only for serving their needs. It’s an important, difficult, and necessary commentary for white and non-indigenous audience members, forcing them to evaluate if how they treat people of colour supports a colonial power structure or racial equity.

All of the cast are excellent, but particular praise has to be thrown at Guy Simon and Ngali Shaw. Simon has a lengthy stage resume, and it shows, settling into his role of Jacky comfortably and giving a beautifully multi-layered performance as a young man trying to find his place. Shaw on the other hand is making his stage debut with Jacky. Shaw tackles his role with an invigorating energy and has an infectiously loveable stage presence; Keith might be a little lost in life, but Shaw was born to perform and does incredible justice to this character.

Jacky is a sensitive and layered portrayal of the difficulties balancing modern life with centuries of cultural identity, giving audiences a unique look at the struggles of being who you are, whoever that is.

MTC‘s Jacky is currently playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio until the 24th of June.
For more information and ticketing, visit:

Photography by Pia Johnson.

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