Streaming on FaceBook and YouTube – April 2020
The One Day Of the Year is an Australian drama about the annual commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It was written in 1958 but it could have been dashed off last week. What makes it thrillingly topical is that the personality of Churchill and the truth about Britain’s colonial past are central to the story.The main character, Alf, is a veteran of the second world war who works as a lift operator. He detests the new Australia and he calls the younger generation a ‘stink lot of imitation Yanks’. For him, Churchill is the greatest Englishman in history. But his rebellious son, Hughie, describes Britain’s wartime prime minister as ‘a big bloated bloodsucker’. Though he once respected his father’s military service, Hughie now resents Anzac Day and the ritual booze-up afterwards. ‘Dad looks such a smart alec walking along like he won the war single-handed.’ He plans to publish an attack on Australian patriotism in a student newspaper but when his mother discovers this scheme she threatens to evict him.Everything is set up for a battle royal between father and son. Both believe they’re right. Hughie claims that Gallipoli was a plot by the British to send Australians to their deaths. His dad, uneducated but intelligent, points out that celebrating a defeat is the mark of a country with a noble and elevated character. As he puts it, ‘A man’s not so bad when he’ll stand up in the street and remember when he was licked.’ Other tensions simmer in the background. Hughie’s wealthy girlfriend is attracted by the family’s lack of pretention. ‘I’m sick of stuck-up young men talking about their Jags.’ But Hughie suspects that she finds his humble origins erotically stimulating. ‘Don’t tell me class doesn’t exist in this country. It’s one of our myths.’This fabulous script has all the simplicity, naturalism and truth of a Chekhov classic. Its elements are brilliantly designed and yet they appear not to be designed at all. The action unfolds with a relaxed, easy fluency, and the characters operate in a dynamic equilibrium, like pieces on a chessboard, each with weapons to deploy and frailties to protect. How strange that it receives so few revivals. Perhaps we have a secret bias telling us that ‘greatness’ and ‘Australian literature’ are mutually exclusive categories. It’s much easier to imagine that the tormented and exotic Russians are capable of sublimity in the field of drama.This production, starring Mark Little as the irascible Alf, was filmed on Zoom and directed by Wayne Harrison. If it reaches a stage near you, rush to see it. It’s a wonder.