COMING back to Perth for the 20th anniversary of the play that launched his career – and has now provided his directorial debut – has been something of a sobering experience for Reg Cribb.
The playwright says it’s disappointing to see that the toxic masculinity and class divide he so pointedly explored in The Return and its movie adaptation Last Train to Freo, are still palpable.
Horror tales of FIFO life on mine sites and even in the halls of power in Canberra have put this toxicity into the spotlight more than ever, but Cribb says we’re not always examining it under the microscope to understand why people behave this way.
“Because this this is based on a real story; it’s based on me witnessing this event on the train,” he says of Last Train.
A trip to the Perth CBD convinced him the play’s message is more potent than ever, as the conditions from which he drew his antagonists Steve and Trev are brewing.
“Those Steve and Trevs are out there in force, especially post-Covid, because the gap between the haves and the have nots has got even greater,” Cribb says.
“Going into the city, I’ve seen the homeless situation, and this is where people like Steve and Trev come from, and the anger.
“The narrative around Covid was always ‘we’re all in this together’ until I got so over hearing that, knowing that we weren’t all in this together; that there was a lot of people living in stocked-up wine cellars in big McMansions and the worst thing to happen to them was they were bored.
“Whereas people like Steve and Trev, they probably fell completely off the perch during that time, even in Perth.
“I feel the zeitgeist is big on this one.”
Interestingly, the play has never been performed in Freo, and Cribb says that’s a shame because he thinks local audiences are more likely to understand where he’s coming from than big-city audiences.
“I think there’s a lot of different stratas in this suburb.”
Fremantle Theatre Company artistic director Ranato Fabretti says Perth doesn’t like to acknowledge its class divide, but scanning old assault and self-harm statistics brought it into stark relief.
“One year there was 26 assaults on the Armadale line, people jumping on and attacking each other, and only two on the Fremantle line, and you’d go ‘well they’re much nicer suburbs’,” Fabretti says.
“But the fact was in Victoria Station, people were throwing themselves in front of the train. So economically, you know, one group self harm and the other group rebel against the oppressive factors that make them feel shitty with their lives.”
That shittiness lies at the heart of Last Train and gives it an edge rarely found in theatre.
Cribb says that comes from his love of tv and movie dramas.
“When I wrote it I was much more of a film TV guy, even though I trained at night in theatre
“What I wanted to see in theatre was something that really thrilled me the way a gritty ‘70s Scorsese film does, where I’m just on the edge of my seat going, ‘oh my god, who are these people that I don’t want to look at, but I can’t take my eyes away from them’.
“I hadn’t seen a play like that.”
Cribb says he was initially surprised at the reaction to the play.
“I thought it was gonna be a social drama, in the way theatre is, but I didn’t know people were gonna be terrified when they came to see it.”
Last Train to Freo Fremantle
Theatre Company August 3 – 20
Victoria Hall, High Street
Tix: https://www. fremantletheatrecompany. com/what-s-on