Among the old faxes, Koala Blue sweaters and Saturday night Fever perspex dance floors of which we glimpse Bitter-sweet on a television screen In our blood.
The nod to a past ABC music drama highlights how few there have been from the station (or anyone for that matter). Further on the musical elements.
Hoodlum’s 4-part drama is set against the backdrop of the first HIV/AIDS epidemic in Sydney – and the corridors of Canberra – since 1983.
It was an era of Thatcherism, reaganomics and the new Hawke-majority government where (fictional) Health Minister Jeremy Wilding (Matt Day) learns of GRID, homosexuality-related immune deficiency, the first term for the unknown virus that would grow into HIV/AIDS.
His new advisor is openly gay David (Tim Draxl), who parties at Sydney’s Patches nightclub, a melting pot of liberation, hedonism, disco, sequins and passion, all overseen by local drag queen Patty (Art Simone). Away from the bars, David lives with his Colombian lover, chef Gabe (Oscar Leal), when he’s not flying to Canberra on business.
But news from abroad of a strange disease affecting homosexuals, Haitians and intravenous drug addicts greatly worried David and his chief minister. While the health department, led by the stuffy department. the chief Clara (Anita Hegh), are contemptuous of the obscure homosexual disease, the minister is not, finally ordering a Task Force.
Such an administration, at a time when the government is trying to implement universal health in Medicare, is not easy, especially when there are no votes to win as homosexuality is still a criminal act in NSW.
The gay community, personified through characters such as lesbian activist Deb (Jada Alberts), girlfriend and teacher Michelle (Anna McGahan), angel-winged waiter Liam (Wil King), ‘queer Nun’ Tim (Ryan A Murphy) and gay indigenous man Alsessio (Stephen Oliver), are busy protesting the police against the decriminalization of homosexuality. The last thing they need is a disease that’s spread among them in America, especially when there’s no clear information about how it spreads.
There’s also local doctor Paul (Nicholas Brown) who warns, “Something is killing gay men. And until we do our research we won’t know what it is.
This tug of war, between liberation and health crisis, takes place in the screenplay by Adriano Cappalletta, directed by John Sheedy and Nicholas Verso. Production designer Matti Crocker filled the screen with color, paired with 80s costumes and a soundtrack of songs including Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Bros, Misex and Men Without Hats.
Ingeniously, the narrative weaves in a Greek chorus of chameleon-like performers (Adriano Cappalletta, Nic Prior, Tomas Parrish, Alice Birbarra), who break the fourth wall by imparting requisite story points to the viewer and, gleefully, burst into song. The weaving of these 80s hits juxtaposed with politics is one of the drama’s many pleasures.
So is Tim Draxl’s brilliant performance as the proud and rebellious young councilor determined to prevent the deaths of those he loves and those who have no voice. Matt Day’s character is no doubt based on a young Neal Blewett, who was Hawke’s Minister of Health. Here he promotes “prevention, cure, treatment, education, research” and seeks bipartisan support (“we all have a problem with Queensland,” he is told).
That any federal government has sought to partner with community groups on safe sex awareness programs is extraordinary, and while we well remember the scare over the Grim Reaper campaigns, what Australia achieved when the rest of the world buried its head under the sand is absolutely worth a revisit. If you liked it It’s a shame from the UK this will win you over from the very first frames.
While the musical inclusions are dynamic, the piece may also need more songs to fully embrace its theatrical style, rather than a fleeting inclusion, and a minister without a personified Prime Minister or Cabinet feels deprived of levels of power to fully appreciate the context.
However, ABC continues to highlight the story and social turning points, and I hope that before the credits roll alone, Chair Ita Buttrose will also be recognized for her pioneering role in Central Australian education. Do not miss it.
In Our Blood airs Sunday, March 19 at 8:30pm on ABC.