Essington Lewis: I am Work – Brisbane Production

Royal Queensland Theatre Company

 Opening Night: Thursday, 6 June, 1991

Suncorp Theatre, Brisbane

 This production was dedicated to John Harris (1941 – 1989)

Great supporter, great critic, great heart.

I knew John Harris. He had been for many years the theatre and film critic for the Newcastle Sun, a daily afternoon newspaper. With its demise he founded his own magazine, a “What’s On In Newcastle” monthly release. He then took a job in Brisbane at the Courier Mail. He was tragically killed, along with his wife and son, in a bus crash outside Kempsey on the NSW North Coast. He was returning to Newcastle for Christmas. He was well known in Newcastle theatrical circles and his death was a great shock to all of us. He is remembered with great fondness.

Essington Queensland 1991 Programme Cover


Anthony Phelan: Essington Lewis

Andrew Buchanan: Taffy Williams

Kevin Hides: John Lewis; Guillaume Delprat; Arbitration Judge

Eugene Gilfedder: Mad Prophet; Jerome Murif; James Kinla; King O’Malley; Bowes Kelley; Barrowman; Migrant; Guggenheim Jnr

Paul Dellit: Harold Darling; Andrew Fisher

Peter Knapman: Policeman; Worker; Usher; Boxer; Migrant

Justine Anderson: Madge Elliott; Young Lady; Hugo Mueke; McKay; Boxing Ring Girl; Blodwyn William; Miss Jones; Mrs Lewis

Simon Burvill-Holmes: Teacher; Judge; David Baker; Salesman; Cecil Hoskins; Migrant

Children, Members of the NSW State Labour Government, Onlookers, Workers, Madge Elliott’s entourage; “Sallies”, Unemployed played by the company.

 “Last night I saw something very rare and special happen … I saw members of the first night audience at the Suncorp Theatre give a standing ovation to a play and to a production, and especially to an actor – and that is something I can’t remember seeing in this theatre in my twenty years in Brisbane.”

Alison Coates ABC Radio 4QR (7 June, 1991)

“The ovations for RQTC’s production of Essington Lewis: I am Work – and for Anthony Phelan’s performance in the title role – have been continuing ever since opening night on 6 June. … This is important theatre … enjoyable theatre … not afraid to entertain”

Peta Koch The Courier Mail (8 June 1991)

“If there is one production you should see this year it is Essington Lewis: I am Work … a fine package of entertainment, education and enlightenment … an amazing cast … enthralling and comical and a rewarding night at the theatre.”

Tracey Pollock The Sunday Sun (9 June 1991)

“A marvellous piece of theatre … John O’Donoghue’s script is funny, moving and – thanks also to Allan McFadden’s songs – rousing.”

Brett Debritz The Sun (10 June 1991)

“With an impressive set … Neeme’s monumentally scaled production is a theatrical success”

Adrian Kiernander. The Australian 10 June, 1991

“…exceptional production which genuinely contributes to our national culture.”

Sue Gough The Bulletin July 2, 1991

“Brisbane has a new triumph  .. miss this and you’ll never understand why Australia is where it is today.”

Geoff Shearer Westside News 12 June, 1991

 From an article by John O’Donoghue: “The Many Faces of Essington Lewis” (Newcastle Herald 18, January 1997)

Actors often identify with the characters they play and in no-one was this better shown than Anthony Phelan. I met him 12 months ago in Sydney. He told me that the previous Saturday he had taken a train to Newcastle as he had never been to Newcastle before. He had gone to the Brewery, on the foreshore and spent the afternoon drinking alone and gazing across to the steelworks. “It was an emotional experience for me. I had never see my steelworks before”, he said. “Your what?” I asked.

“My steelworks. I was happy to see and smell my steelworks at last.”

Essington meets Madge Elliot

Essington meets Madge Elliot


Essington meets Taffy

Essington meets Taffy





Wartime Cartoon

Wartime Cartoon