Friday, March 4, 2022



The Wilkins Trilogy Part One

 Written by  Peter Maddern,  Performed by Stephen Schofiekld. Presented by Palmerston Projects Pty Ltd.  Goodwood Theatre and Studios – Main Theatre. Goodwood Institute. Adelaide Fringe

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

“Am I blessed or just lucky?” Hubert Wilkins asks at the end of Peter Maddern’s fascinating one man performance of The Wilkins Trilogy Part One. Maddern’s account of the early life of the intrepid photographer and adventurer offers a fascinating insight into the young life of one of South Australia’s favourite sons. However, the one hour monologue performed with energetic conviction by engaging performer Stephen Schofield, reveals many more aspects of Sir Hubert Wilkins’s fortunate life. Maddern focuses on Wilkins’s decision to abandon prospects of an engineering career and leave his family’s drought-stricken farming property at Mount Bright East for Sydney, where he pursued his passion for photography. It is an interest that will take him to the dangerous Balkan War of 1912, the perilous ice floes of the Arctic and the deadly fields of France during the war to end all wars. Schofield recounts Wilkins’s miraculous escapes from warfare, a firing squad, frostbite during the 1913-16 Canadian Arctic Expedition under the erratic Vilhjalmur Stefasson’s ill-fated Canadian Arctic expedition and shelling with a performance that vividly portrays Wilkins’s experiences and captivates an audience with his command of Maddern’s vividly researched script and colourful imagery. It is a visceral performance by Schofield and he holds his audience fascinated throughout the lengthy monologue.

At the end we are left with the realization that no J Rider Haggard novel could surpass the peril, the excitement, the tension and the exhilaration of Wilkins’s Life. Maddern’s production of The Eye of Wilkins at last year’s Adelaide Fringe gave a more overarching account of Wilkins’s entire life through documentary film. In the Main Theatre of the Goodwood Institute, Schofield’s live performance emerging from the dark shadows of Covid elevated The Wilkins Trilogy Part One to a riveting account of unknown details of the man’s extraordinary life.

The amazing adventures are accompanied by projected images of Wilkins’s graphic and dramatic photographs of the Arctic and James Bartlett’s stranded boat the Karluk, the fields of war, the surrender of the enemy and the horror of the trenches and moving film footage of a soldier being treated in vain on the World War 1 battlefield.  There is scope for more visual imagery to cover the unnecessary pauses and fades while Schofield changes costuming.  Tighter direction and more effective use of imagery and visual footage would have heightened the tension and thrill of Maddern’s revelation of a life too little known. His compatriot, Frank Hurley, has assumed a more prominent profile in the history of war photographers. Maddern’s obvious fascination with local South Australian provides the ideal opportunity to become more acquainted with Wilkins’s life. He is wonderfully assisted in this by Schofield whose performance encapsulates the thrill that marked Wilkins’s adventures but by some remarkable fortune spared him time after time from certain death. His account is the stuff of legend.

Parts Two and Three of the trilogy linger still in Maddern’s imagination. If Part One is anything to go by, they are sure to be as entertaining, informative and exciting as The Wilkins Trilogy Part One. Wilkins assumes a very important place in our nation’s history. Maddern and Schofield have brought Wilkins’s first thirty years to life upon the stage. I look forward with eager anticipation to Parts Two and Three. Highly recommended.