It turns out the strange title of this piece has nothing to do with pigs or iron but references a time when Australia was coming out of an era defined by the influence of Robert Menzies (former Prime Minister), who gained the nick-name ‘Pig Iron Bob’ during the 1939 protests over the export of iron to Japan. Menzies had a strong effect on the population of this country and the characters in this John Doyle play reflect the attitudes of a cache of people who grew up in inner Sydney during this time. Doyle is well known as a TV host, actor, and most famously as Roy of ‘Roy and H.G.’ fame. His script is funny, as you would expect, but it is also insightful, poignant, sensitive, and at times cutting.
The five older characters, all of the Menzies era and in their 60s are well defined by Doyle. Jack a belligerent ex-navy man, played by Lindsay Dunn with no holds barred, lives with his wife Janette (Joanne St Clair), often the object of his contempt and ire, at number 6 Liberal St. St Clair gives Janette a depth that shows despite the difficulties of her life and marriage she has weathered all. At number 4 lives Claude (Jack Robins) who drives for a living and although he is as bigoted and narrow-minded as Jack he handles it mostly with good humour. He and his wife, the tragicomic Rosie (Deborah Walsh), present the picture of a happily retired couple until the surface is scratched. These two bounce off one another well but develop their characters beautifully to show us their flaws and secrets. German Kurt in number 2 is played with vigour by Brian Godfrey. Kurt is the object of much of the disharmony in the street, he is an audio engineer with a loud dog and an abrasive attitude, all of which lead to unrest. His monologue warning of the coming hard times for artists, aborigines, musicians, gays, and welfare bludgers is a scarily accurate prediction of the Howard era.
Moving into number 5 Liberal Street is our narrator, Nick, played by Nick Launchbury. A writer who is a little emotional damaged, he becomes fascinated by the history of the house he is renting which was previously occupied by a star of music hall. The meeting of his neighbours is a rude awakening for Nick who finds himself becoming a curiosity for them. The introduction of April, an aspiring actress changes the dynamics. April is played by Leah Lowe and the interaction between these two is well developed and causes much interest from the others. Nick, the only character to break the fourth wall and address the audience, gives a fine performance, if a little quiet at times.
All of this is handled with understanding and care by director Lesley Reed, assisted by Olivia Jane Parker. This play has music! Small vignettes of various songs were handled by the cast to emphasize some points. Musical Director Sarah Bradley has coached them well. Lowe sings “Bird in A Gilded Cage” beautifully, Dunn’s version of “Captain of the Pinafore” is rousing and Godfrey singing “Thank heavens for little girls” in a German accent with vitriol. The Don Oakley set is a miracle of miniaturization, a wonder in black and white complete with garbage cans and a Valiant car. This show is another St Jude’s triumph, worth the trip down Brighton Road.