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Dance All Night at the Sunshine Club

Behind the outlandishly catchy melodies and joyful musical numbers, is a question that speaks to the heart of Australia’s history. 

By Betty Sweetlove

“The Sunshine Club is a feel-good musical, and that’s its job” says the show’s inimitable writer and director, Wesley Enoch AM. Written in the 1990s, the multi-award-winning show was lovingly brought back to life by Queensland Theatre last year. 

In the decades since its debut, Wesley Enoch has become one of Australia’s premier arts leaders. Returning to direct a new ensemble, studded with rising First Nations stars including Naarah and Garret Lyon, Enoch reflects on the musical’s enduring relevance.

“In the 90s, it was the height of the reconciliation movement, and I was writing about the birthplaces of that movement. Now it’s being produced again, it’s very much because we’re in the throes of talking about the referendum. The central question is still the same: can black and white dance together?” he says. 

The story begins in post-war Brisbane as serviceman Frank Doyle returns from the war. Far from the liberated world he fought for, Frank faces the heartbreaking reality of racism as an Aboriginal man in Australia. Spurred on by his love for Rose, an ambitious young singer, Frank sets up the Sunshine Club, where people from all walks of life can meet and, most importantly, dance. 

“Rose has all these options ahead of her - she’s been chosen to study at the London Academy of Music. When Frank comes back, they realise not only are they good friends, but they have an attraction - a white woman and a black man. That’s the basis of the play.” says Enoch.

This tale of love against all odds is inspired by the true, and often unknown, history of Aboriginal dance clubs that popped up after WWII. 

“The Sunshine Club is a fictional place but it’s based on a real place called the Boathouse in Brisbane that a lot of my Elders went to. They’d tell stories of the dances they’d go to, how they’d have to sneak in and sneak back out again,” Enoch says.

Strict curfews were in place across the city and Aboriginal people would risk getting arrested on their way to the club at night.

“These dance clubs were for people who needed a place to go and be human in a world that was treating them as if they weren’t,” Enoch says. 

An extraordinary piece of Australian theatre history, The Sunshine Club brings all the joy of musicals to the important questions of Australia’s colonial legacy.

“I think that a play, while it’s a very dull instrument for social change, it becomes a very important touchstone. Social change happens because people can go - I feel strengthened, I feel loved, cared for, I feel acknowledged through this story being told,” Enoch says.

With breathtaking choreography and a five-piece band, these true stories of community, strength and resilience take centre stage.

“There’s a song right at the end, and I don’t want to give away too much, but when we wrote it in the 90s the sentiment was that we have to make change. The lyric goes: “If not now, then when? If not now, then show me a world where it can,” says Enoch.

For one night only, the Sunshine Club is opening its doors in Mparntwe/Alice Springs this month.

“I’m not saying that plays change the world, but I say that people who change the world come and see plays,” Enoch says.

The Sunshine Club
WHEN WED 11 OCT | 7:30PM
COST $59 | $55 CONC | $54 STUD

Photos: HIT Productions 

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