Presented by The Stirling Players
Reviewed 6 November 2020
The Stirling Players have presented an all Aussie line-up for their first production since COVID-19 shut down Australia’s theatres in March. With socially distanced seating and some additional safety measures in place, it may have been a slightly different visit to the theatre than what we were used to, but I’m personally very grateful that The Stirling Players have done whatever they can to continue bringing live theatre to our stages.
Labelled as A Dinky-Di Double Bill, The Stirling Players present two Australian short plays, The Margarine Conspiracy and Down Came a Jumbuck.
The Margarine Conspiracy followed a family and their concerns (or lack thereof) regarding the environment and pollution. It’s a story that broaches some interesting and thought-provoking topics, but don’t expect a definitive resolution to this story. Perhaps this is indicative of the environmental discussions that we continue to have 35 years after this play was written.
The actors each had a clear sense of who their character was, but the play overall seemed to lack a sense of cohesion and connection between the characters. This was further jarred by the large volume of asides to the audience, which regularly interrupted the action. It’s a tricky feat to create a clear distinction between action in a scene and a breaking of the fourth wall, especially with no lighting changes to help clarify this to the audience. This is one area that director Bronwyn Chapple perhaps should have worked with her actors more to present these distinctions. At times it was difficult to tell when one of these asides was occurring, and a greater change in the body language and/or blocking at these points would have assisted with clarity.
Andrew Aitken played Tom, a paranoid environmental conspiracy theorist, and he brought across the passion and agitation of the character with finesse. Georgi Clough, as Tom’s wife Helen, delivered her dialogue with natural ease, and found a good balance between the dutiful wife who wanted to support her husband in his cause and the woman who was tired of it all and just wanted to throw away the bloody plastic bags. Rebecca Gardner played Tom’s sister Barbara with plenty of eye-rolls and general frustration at his extremism, but could have utilised her body language and facial expressions more, as many of her emotional changes were very subtle.
If The Margarine Conspiracy was a semi-serious critique of environmental issues, Down Came a Jumbuck throws all pretence of seriousness out the window. Apparently, there is some debate on exactly when and how the iconic Australian song Waltzing Matilda came to be written. This play suggests an alternative theory that is as likely as this play is serious (that is, not at all), but it certainly takes the audience on a wild ride of snappy banter, making you lean forward in your seat to await the next famous line from the song to be dropped into hilarious conversation.
The witty back-and-forth in Down Came a Jumbuck requires a cast with excellent comic timing, and the actors in this production certainly have that in spades! Malcolm Walton and Maxine Grubel, as Hubert and Miss Church, keep their dialogue snappy and fast-paced, never losing the clarity of their lines, while Lochie Daniel’s young intern has an excellent level of subservience and the optimism of youth to contrast with the other two larger-than-life characters.
This play was overall a tight and slick production, with the only letdown the same lack of clarity in audience asides that the other play displayed.
The set for both productions was simple but effective, necessary for the complete set change required between the two plays. Each consisted of simple decor that accurately reflected the eras, with accompanying pictures on the walls of the set. Simple, static projection added to the backdrop without distracting from the action on stage. Costuming was similarly era-appropriate and suited the colour schemes and the actors wearing them.
The Stirling Players are to be commended, not only for bringing theatre back to our lives, but also for presenting Australian works that tell distinctly Australian stories.
Do yourself and the South Australian theatre community a favour and go and see this production and as many others as you can.
Review by Kristin Stefanoff
Venue: The Stirling Community Theatre
Season: Until 15 Nov 2020
Duration: Approx 2 hours
Tickets: Adults $22, Concession $18, Groups of 10+ $16
Bookings: Book online at www.stirlingplayers.sct.org.au OR phone (08) 7481 6152