Theatre Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeeth Doll

For seventeen years, two sugarcane cutters have journeyed to Melbourne to catch up with two women but this year things change as truths are revealed.


Summer of the Seventeeth Doll

Maxine Grubel and Allison Scharber as ‘Pearl’ and ‘Olive’ in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Presented by Therry Dramatic Society
Reviewed 23 August 2014

This reviewer has a huge admission to make – until seeing this production of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, I absolutely hated the play, and would go to almost any lengths to avoid Northern cane cutters and stereotypical Aussie accents.

To me, the play was as boring as dishwater and horribly out-dated. Therry’s wonderful production, under Jude Hines’ well-paced direction, has made a believer of this jaded critic.

Hines very obviously has a great love, understanding and immense respect for Lawler’s Australian classic. She has injected warmth and humour into the tale whilst still maintaining the tragic descent of its protagonists. Hines has overcome the out-datedness brilliantly by ingeniously transporting the audience back to 1950s Australia.

The story is of of two Northern Queensland cane cutters spending their annual, five-month summer layoff in Melbourne with two barmaids. It’s about ritual, change, mateship and fragility and was a benchmark for Australian drama when written in the late fifties.

God Save The Queen is played at the commencement of the production, followed by the 1948 Australian National Film Board short feature The Cane Cutters, nicely used to cover scene changes and to give one an insight into the type of man required for the task.

Attention to the finer details of the time – milk being delivered in bottles and left on the doorstep in a metal carrier – and in vogue costumes and hairstyles by Ian Rigney and Heather Beasley respectively, complete the audience’s time transportation beautifully.

Nick Spottiswoode’s set is stunning to look at, but could do with being less spacious and more cluttered; whilst the summery, unobtrusive lighting shows off Richard Parkhill’s expertise yet again.

Director Hines has selected a very strong, superb ensemble for this production, who all present ‘real’ people and not characterisations. Allison Scharber shines as Olive, giving the role an almost manic vitality and energy; whilst the always-impressive Rodney Hutton gives an extremely fine performance as cane cutter Roo with a quietness and sensitivity that never belies his manliness. As Roo’s offsider Barney, Glen Christie is the perfect ying to Hutton’s yang and likable enough for one to tolerate his larrikinism. Christie’s drunk routine is just right.

Maxine Grubel gives a nice touch of haughtiness to ‘odd person out’ Pearl; with Penni Hamilton-Smith giving one of her best performances as Emma. Whilst giving plenty of comic relief, Hamilton-Smith still manages to elicit understanding, softening and hardening the character exactly where needed.

Eleanor Kay and Jonathan Johnston round out the excellent cast well.

This Summer of the Seventeenth Doll makes one feel as if they are living the action rather than just experiencing a stage show.

Thank you Therry, for showing this reviewer the error of his ways so stylishly.

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Twitter: @briangods

Venue: The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 21 – 30 August 2014
Duration: 2 hours 30 mins, including interval
Tickets: $11.00 – $25.00
Bookings: Book by phone on 8410 5515 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm) or purchase tickets through BASS online (phone 131 246) or VenueTix


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