Up the Ladder

ACPA Up the Ladder

Up the Ladder


QPAC Cremorne

24th – 27th October 2012

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

“Here’s a story of aboriginal people aspiring…” Director, Wesley Enoch

The Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) was established in the 1990s and in 2011 enjoyed a sell-out season of Stolen, directed by Leah Purcell. This year’s final production, directed by QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, is Roger Bennett’s short play, Up the Ladder. The relatively straightforward story of an Aboriginal man rising through the ranks of the boxing world to become a champion becomes colourfully and noisily chaotic with the addition of fabulous original music (Musical Director Laine Loxlea-Dannan and Composers Laine Loxlea-Dannan, Bradley McCaw, Garret Lyon & Alinta McGrady) and dance (Choreographer Penny Mullen. Fight Director Niki Price).

Up the Ladder, as Director Wesley Enoch acknowledges, is a bit of a Trojan Horse. We follow a love story and an Aboriginal man’s quest to be the best he can be, in a bid to achieve notoriety and the means to support his family. We also see the sorry state of our society not so long ago, during a time that kept Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people separated and scared of what might happen should they ever enjoy the same level of “equality” (what a loaded word that is!). The political agenda is brought under the spotlight in the final moments, rather than getting in the way of a good story. Or is it the real story?

After an excited welcome in the foyer from two of the carnival crowd, and a dodgy offer of cheap watches from a dubious character who introduced himself as Shifty, we made our way to our seats in the Cremorne – it’s always freezing in the Cremorne – and looked about to see most of the company nearby, dressed in (1950s) vintage apparel and chatting and laughing amongst themselves. Many in the opening night audience were in no hurry to sit and we wondered aloud just who was in the show and who was there to see it! The question persisted as the show began with an upbeat song and an energetic jive on stage and off, while enthusiastic audience members added their own exuberant cheers and shouts to the carnival atmosphere. Two gentlemen appeared to be plants in the audience…at first. Their vocal contributions continued until well into the performance, when they left the theatre surprisingly quietly. This irregularity was the most hilarious opening 20 minutes of anything I’ve ever seen! Fortunately, we were able to follow the simple story during that raucous start and enjoyed the gentlemen’s antics as much as the early music and dance numbers; however, I noticed a few negative comments muttered by other audience members who were having a harder time than we were, focusing on the ACPA performers (as opposed to those uncles in the first two rows!). I guess all sorts are going to the theatre. And isn’t that fantastic?!

Wesley Enoch has turned this play into a Bran Nue Dae inspired extravaganza. The lighting (Jason Glenwright) is evocative of a fair ground and the design (Josh McIntosh), with its multiple levels, brightly coloured bunting and over-sized posters of Aboriginal boxers covering the upper walls, takes us to a time and place that our parents and grandparents speak of. A time and place we can hardly believe existed. And yet, in many ways and in many places, exists to this day. In ACPA’s final production for 2012 we see that the future of these Aboriginal artists at least, is bright. In particular, the band is on fire, the singers are in fine voice (I’d like to hear those boys sing some Scott Alan), and while the dance component is uniformly good, as it always is at ACPA, two of the dancers are outstanding. You’ll know in an instant which two they are. They have the same exquisite control over angular quirks of the sort of choreography that is so recognisable in Bangarra’s repertoire, and they have the intensity, natural confidence and focus to match that – and any other – professional company’s standards. It makes them very easy to watch. The dance ensemble together make a well-rehearsed and beautifully disturbing impact and in stark contrast, their prowess makes others appear much less comfortable on the same stage. It’s a mixed crowd, as you tend to expect at any student production; some are stronger performers than others. But the overall effect is Enoch’s specialty; it’s infectious fun and inspiring storytelling with a core message of tolerance, understanding, recognition and reconciliation.

It’s a short season and the three remaining shows this weekend are likely to sell out so for a bit of fun and a serious message behind all those bright lights and bunting, be quick and get along to see ACPA’s Up the Ladder.

Listen to Wesley Enoch and ACPA performers chat with Kelly Higgins-Devine.

Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young



Up the Ladder

Image by Sean Young


ACPA Up the Ladder

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