Michael Gow’s 1986 play, about three Australian families on their respective summer holidays at the end of 1967, has been a staple of theatre groups since it was written, and regularly features on school curricula.
This is a student production, which means that the performers are mostly around the same age, and possess a range of experiences and abilities. Although written for a small cast, with part doubling possible, this production has a performer for each role.
The play opens with a school’s end of year drama production and we see the last moments of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Bard is referenced throughout the play, with The Tempest alluded to in a storm at the camp site, and it ends at the start of the next school year, with the children working on their studies of King Lear.
The set is a bare stage, a wall across the back with an entrance either side, a projector screen hung centrally, suggesting Shakespeare’s stage at the Globe theatre. It is well lit by Richard Parkhill, and Ryan Merrett’s multimedia projections set the scenes and create moods to suit.
The headmaster, Roy, and his wife, Coral, have a failing marriage, torn apart by the death of their son in Vietnam. She is depressed, and his constant harassment is not helping, as they head off to a posh hotel. Jim, and his constantly complaining wife, Gwen, are taking their rebellious daughter, Meg, away in their caravan. English migrants, Harry and Vic, are taking a camping holiday with their son, Tom, aware that it might be their last, as Tom is dying of leukaemia.
Tom and Meg were in the school play, and there is an attraction. Tom expresses his feelings, presenting Meg with a brooch. Gwen is unimpressed with Meg’s emerging sexuality and, even less so, with Tom. Alex Daly and Karen Burns beautifully capture the awkwardness of young love. This is later contrasted with their even more awkward moment when Tom asks her to let him do “it” to her just once before he dies, which these two performers negotiate most sensitively.
Joshua Caldwell, as Roy, and Sophia Dooley, as Coral, are nicely balanced as the bullying husband and emotionally distant wife, neither coping well with their situation, and employing inappropriate and destructive ways to survive.
James Shwerwin, as Harry, and Kirsty Haigh, as Vic, give warm and empathetic performances as the caring parents of the dying Tom, deliberately masking their pain.
Ben Todd, as Jim, and Kelly Mildenhall, as Gwen work well as the pacifying husband and complaining wife, their height differences adding to the effect, but her tendency to emphasise sentences by breaking them into blocks of a couple of words wears thin.
Danielle Macolino, as Leonie, who snubs Coral, and Robert Bell, as her newlywed husband, who connects with Coral, helping her to break her self-destructive cycle, give good account of themselves in these smaller roles.
First time Director, Aldo Longobardi, has created lots of physical business to keep the ensemble involved, but this seems to have taken his attention away from the full weight of the text and, importantly, basic theatre-craft; a little more attention to enunciation and projection would have been invaluable.
In spite of those few shortcomings, this production is still well worth seeing for the fine performances.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide
Venue: Little Theatre, The Cloisters, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: to 18th May 2013
Duration: 2hr 20min incl intvl.
Tickets: Adult $28/Concession $23
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here