Christopher Dale Flannery, also known as ‘Dale’ or ‘Mr Renta Kill’, is one of Australia’s most notorious hit men. In the early 1970s whilst still in his teens, Dale was admitted to Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison and was very soon transferred to ‘H’ division, the maximum security wing. Everynight, Everynight, written by acclaimed Australian playwright Ray Mooney, is based on Mooney’s inside knowledge and experience of the prison system, ‘H’ division, and Dale.
In this work, how Dale came to be at Pentridge is inexplicit, as is the ghastly crimes he committed following his release. Instead, this work focuses on the debilitating institutionalised violence that Dale and the majority of his inmates endured at the hands of the prison guards, and Dale’s subsequent instigation of an uprising against their mistreatment.
Darren Hassan’s production of Everynight, Everynight reminds its audience that unlike their weekly feeding of dramatised crime on television, the theatre offers no glass screen to separate the audience from the action. The Carlton Courthouse is a dark and intimate venue for this work and as would have the Old Adelaide Gaol where this work was performed earlier in the year, the venue itself creates atmosphere. The divisions of the prison cells are marked out on the floor by duct tape and in each cell are just a canvas bed, a bucket and a roll of toilet paper. Although the prisoners are isolated in individual cells, with the absence of conventional wall structures they are in full view of each other, the guards and their audience. There is nowhere for the prisoners to hide.
Dale’s fellow inmates are perhaps a sample from each class of prisoner within ‘H’ division: those who were in danger from other prisoners, those who where undergoing disciplinary treatment and those who were dangerous. Barrett (Brian Godfrey) is a dumpy, balding fellow who is constantly fidgeting. With the intelligence of a young child, he is an easy target for the guards’ taunts and physical abuse. Bryant (Gary Harrison) keeps to himself, it seems his ability to hide his fears and put up a fight has worked in his favour. Then there’s Driscoll (Chris Asimos), young, nerdy and understandably petrified. Godfrey in his role of Barrett is perhaps given the most interesting and likeable character to work with but he deserves special mention for his portrayal and provision of some much-needed comic relief.
The scene in which the young and cheeky but relatively compliant Dale (Damien Carr) is admitted and initiated into ‘H’ division is perhaps the most confronting and emotive scene an audience could witness. The guards taunt, beat and strangle Dale. He is close enough to the audience that the red blotches on his back where the guard’s baton has made contact with his skin are clearly visible. His cries of agony and groans echo around the room. When the guards then strip Dale naked only to humiliate him even further, it is enough to bring anyone with heart to tears. It is a scene that evokes great emotion in its audience and a moment for consideration and recovery, in the form of a short interval or a prolonged period of the lights out, would have been welcomed.
This moment also allows the cast to demonstrate their performance brilliance. Although Wayne Anthoney as Governor and Mark Aitchison as Officer Kert manage to make their presence felt from the start, the characters until this point have been fairly bland. It is a scene that requires great timing and physicality from all performers and they deliver. Carr’s role also requires great maturity and a precise management of emotions if it is to be believable, and he succeeds in both.
One of the most frustrating elements in this work is that very little time is devoted to revealing, or even hinting at, the motivation of the characters, their lives outside of prison, or their crimes. The Governor to some extent explains the reasons behind his disciplinary methods but when Bryant and Dale are given the opportunity to express their thoughts, their monologues are difficult to hear. This is perhaps in part because of the acoustics of the building but also in their delivery. Harrison and Carr, unless they are shouting, tend to speak quickly and often mumble their lines. Carr, with his naturally gentle voice, has the more difficult task of roughening his pronunciation.
That said, the scarcity of exposition and explanation is most likely deliberate. The result is a work that does not allow its audience to indulge in pre-conceived judgements of character or status. Rather, it promotes a viewing of both the prisoners and the prison authorities simply as humans acting and re-acting within the prison. It is then that the labelling of the actions within the prison that are justifiable, and those that are not, becomes an easier task than one might expect.
When Dale finally “resigns from the human race”, when he initiates the uprising of the inmates (which incidentally resulted in a Royal Commission) the audience breathe a sigh of relief. They too can finally escape the confines of the prison, along with the noise, the harshness, the violence and the debasement. However they leave with the knowledge that this is what the men in this prison experienced every day, sometimes every day for the rest of their lives. The crimes of the prisoners and the stories of their own victims will have to wait for another time…
by Ray Mooney
Directed by Darren Hassan
Venue: La Mama at the Carlton Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Dates: 18 March – 28 March, 2009
Times: Wednesdays and Sundays at 6.30pm, Thursdays to Saturdays at 8.00pm
Tickets: $25 / $12 (conc.)
Duration: 90 minutes approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142 / www.lamama.com.au