Until March 3
WHAT does it mean that practically all of the hundred or so characters past and present from Neighbours have their own Wikipedia page but Irving Sayles, at one time among the most-famous entertainers in Australia, gets bupkis? That dark stars are indeed hard to see?
Sayles was an African-American performer who, in 1888, at the age of just 16, toured Australia with a minstrel company. Like many black Americans who toured here at that time, he decided to stay, becoming a draw on the Tivoli Circuit.
In this fascinating one-man show, Jonathan Council, also an African-American performer with an ambition to emigrate, compares and contrasts his own life story with Sayles', bringing out several coincidences, and dwelling on some telling distinctions.
Fussy, portly, with a somewhat gluey voice, Council seems a long way from Sayles, by all accounts an acrobatic figure, but he can tell a fine story, and his pathetically close brushes with stardom make a witty foil to Sayles' tragic struggle.
On the one hand, Sayles flatters Australian attitudes towards race. In Australia, he had freedoms at that time unimaginable in parts of the US. On the other, Sayles won favour with his Australian audience by distinguishing his own blackness from that of indigenous Australians.
Arthur Meek, the New Zealand director and playwright who has shaped the narrative, touches on this with an eloquent modesty that amplifies the show's central theme: dignity sacrificed in the quest for fame, but regained in failure.