Aussie Play Clocks up 5000 Performances

Aussie Play Clocks up 5000 Performances

It's not just the West End or Broadway that can boast long running plays. Just as The Mousetrap has run forever, so too Australia has its own play that is still going decades after it opened. On Saturday 15th December 2012 there was a landmark event in Strahan, on Tasmania's west coast: the 5000th performance of Australia's longest running play, The Ship That Never Was.

Written and directed by Tasmanian playwright Richard Davey, the play tells the story of ten convict shipwrights from the Sarah Island Penal Settlement, who stole the last ship built at the settlement and made their escape to Chile. After living in Chile for a year, four convicts were handed back to the British, to be transported once again to Van Diemens Land. Put on trial in Hobart for 'Mutiny and Piracy', the four convicts are due to be hanged... BUT manage to wriggle out of it!

During the course of the play, two performers build a fully rigged ship and interact with the audience to re-enact the capture of the Frederick and sail the ship to Chile.

For the 5000th performance, two performers became eight, with a number of performers from the early years joining the current cast.

The Ship That Never Was was first performed in Hobart in January 1984 at the Peacock Theatre. For the next ten years, the play, adapted for outdoor performances, was performed at various festivals around Tasmania, including the Wooden Boat Festival, and there was a season in Melbourne.

In December 1993, Richard Davey was invited to bring the play to Strahan, close to the site of the original escape. Adapted once again for performance at the Strahan Amphitheatre, The Ship That Never Was has been performed in Strahan by members of The Round Earth Company ever since and now runs seven nights a week from September to May.

Until you can make it to Strahan - here is how the play opens.

Script excerpt.

THE SHIP THAT NEVER WAS is the story of the last Great Escape from Sarah Island by ten convicts who stole the Frederick and sailed her to Chile.







Other characters are played by members of the audience, as indicated in the script.

PART ONE: Building the Frederick

SHIRES: Porter, I told you I would gather an intelligent, civilized and sensitive bunch of people.

PORTER: Where are they? [TO AUDIENCE] And a disclaimer from me. This is his idea, if it all goes pear-shape, blame him.

SHIRES: Story of your life Porter, all credit, no blame! [TO AUDIENCE] You might have noticed, if you was particularly observant, there are ten of us involved in this little escapade, the capture of the good ship "Frederick", and there's only two of us here.




PORTER: What? Oh no!

SHIRES: This is James Porter, call him Jimmy!

PORTER: And this here is William Shires. Bill. Where are . . . ?

SHIRES: These three, the three sailor boys, John Dady, John Fair, John Jones, sailed the ship beautiful, apart from that they didn't know what was going on!

PORTER: Still don’t! And these two, William Cheshire and Charlie

Lyon, they’re supposed to be here Shires, where are they?!

SHIRES: They’re down the pub!

PORTER: Been there since Christmas!

SHIRES: 1838.

PORTER: We can’t write them out of the tale altogether. You find someone to rig in for ‘em!

Shires picks two people in the audience and places hats on their heads.

SHIRES: You two will do fine – you do nothing, clear?

PORTER: However, whenever we mention their names, Cheshire and Lyon, the rest of you boo loudly! These three, Johnny Barker, James Lesley, Benjamin Russen, Johnny Barker, a real file, gunsmith, fly to every push on the board!

Porter picks a person in the audience

Barker! I won’t say it’s nice to see you – because it’s not! Left your hat behind last time we saw you vanishing into the vasty distance! And I have a bone to pick with you about that little occasion, later, Mr. Barker!

Places a hat on Barker’s head

And James Leslie...

SHIRES: He's a nice lad!

PORTER: A bragger, a boaster, always claimed he were a shipwright, didn't you, James?

Porter picks a person in the audience

You was a trennel mooter, Leslie, somebody had to make the round bits round - best in the business! And my mate, Benjamin Russen!

SHIRES: Out and out villain...

PORTER: He's a good man to have behind you in a fight . .

SHIRES: Long as he's on your side!

PORTER: Yeah! Never turn your back on Benjamin Russen!


Porter picks a person in the audience

Whose side you on today, Ben? There! All present and correct.

SHIRES: Now, I'd like to welcome your worships to this appeal and quasi-legal enquiry . . .

PORTER: A what!?

SHIRES: A quasi-legal enquiry on behalf of meself and me fellow mutineers and pirates . . .

PORTER: Argh! Shiver me timbers, "Pieces of ten, pieces of ten"!!

SHIRES: Porter, what are you doing?

PORTER: Me parrot's gone decimal!

SHIRES: Porter, this is serious!

PORTER: You said it was going to be a pantomime!

SHIRES: No, I said those pants are mine! Lose the parrot.

PORTER: No! Never know when you need a parrot! You, you’re the parrot! Squarks in the action sequences! Swears something horrible! Swark beeep!

SHIRES: Your worships, Porter and me and Cheshire and Lyon…


SHIRES: … are four of the ten who knabbed the "Frederick", last ship built on Sarah Island. January 1834 we knabbed her, and we don't deny we knabbed her!

PORTER: We're rather proud of that, eh, Russen!

SHIRES: But here's the catch: four years later, 1838, four of us, us two . .

PORTER: . . and Cheshire and Lyon!


SHIRES: . . . are back here in Van Diemens Land, back to face the music!

PORTER: Which don't sound too good! We have been found guilty of Piracy and Mutiny and we're up for a scragging . . a scragging . . .

Demonstrates on Shires

SHIRES: . . . unless we can succeed with one final appeal to the Chief Justice, Mr. Pedder and His Excellency the new Governor, Sir John

PORTER: Fatso!

SHIRES: Franklin!

PORTER: He couldn’t fit through the North West Passage!

SHIRES: And that's where you come in your worships, because we think we have found…

PORTER: No! Shires, you think! I don’t think at all!

SHIRES: Yes. I think we have found an angle! A legal loophole through which we can wriggle . . And we would like to try it out on your worships...

PORTER: Before we spring it on the judge.

SHIRES: It's a good idea!

PORTER: It’s a dumb idea!

SHIRES: It’s a good Idea!

PORTER: It’s a dumb idea! I’m off!

SHIRES: You said you’d give it a go!

PORTER: All right, it’s up to their Worships. We tell you the story, you give it the thumbs up, sure, we’ll take it to the Judge. Thumbs down – a scragging – Shires I have a sneaking suspicion that’s what this lot have turned up for!

Story and excerpt previously published in the March / April 2013 editionn of Stage Whispers.

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