Jack Charles: Synopsis and Witnessing



Protocol: Acknowledgement that this performance was taking place on unceded Coast Salish land.

The performance started with Charles moulding clay on a pottery wheel while the three membered band, who remained on stage from the length of the play, played music. Projected behind him was footage from the documentary Bastardly that showed Charles shooting heroin. When the footage ended, the lights came on and revealed the stage. The stage was set up as if it were Charles’s house or living area. There was a pottery area, a living room, and a kitchen area with a tea pot and kettle.

Right after the footage end, Charles stood up and started talking about his life. He started with his heritage and childhood and slowly went into talking about his acting career and his life of substance abuse and crime.

The play ended with Charles changing into formal clothes and addressing the audience as if he was in court and the audience was the judge. He was arguing for the right to have his criminal record cleared due to the fact that what led him into his life of crime was the physical, sexual, and mental abuse he faced from being taken from his family and put into residential school where he was isolated from his culture.


I attended the last performance of Jack Charles v. the Crown that showed in Vancouver on January 23, 2016. I really enjoy watching plays, but I did not know what to expect for this one because I have never watched a play where there was only one actor. From the first word Charles said, I knew that I would not have any difficultly watching only him for 75 minutes. Charles is a very animated, and captivating performer who has a stage presence that demands the attention of the audience. While he was talking about serious and upsetting issues, he did a brilliant job of bringing in humour without trivializing the topics being discussed.

After reading Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, I was interested in listening to how Charles’ experienced residential school in Australia, and how it compared/contrasted to residential schools in Canada. Yet, I learned very quickly that this play was not a history lesson. Charles gave a brief, but personal, account of his life and he did not dwell on the details of the abuse that he was subjected to in his past. In Medicine Shows, Nolan states how “good medicine” is about making connections and community (2) and it seems that Charles did this by making connections with Indigenous people in Australia and Canada.

The part of the play that intrigued me the most was the last section when Charles addressed the audience as if we were a judge or jury and he was arguing to have his criminal record erased. Due to the fact he was addressing the audience as if we were the Australian state, I could not help but feel uncomfortable and I was not sure why. When reflecting on this, I think it is because he broke the “fourth wall” and was speaking to us saying how “you did this”. While he was talking about Australia, I could not help feel guilty as a settler here in Canada.

Overall, I really enjoyed this performance. I found it to be not only interesting and educational, but entertaining and beautiful to witness. I do wish that I could see it a second time though because I feel that I would get more out of it. There was a lot of speech through the play and it was difficult to catch everything.