Theatre Review: The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race

This is a wonderful feel-good show

Presented by: Tea Tree Players
Reviewed: 27 May, 2023

Melanie Tait’s The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is a funny, clever and beautiful piece of writing about life in Australian country towns and equality – and it is also a very nice change of pace and something different for Tea Tree Players. 2023 sees the company that usually does British farce (and does it well) broadening their and their audiences’ outlook on modern theatre. This production is an extremely good step in that direction.

Appleton is a fictional country town in New South Wales that is famous (at least in Appleton) for its Annual Show, the highlight of which is its Potato Race. Not a sack race, but participants running with a sack of potatoes on their shoulders: 50 kilos for the men netting the winner $1000 and 20 kilos for the women netting the winner $200 – you can see where the argument for equality will come into play. Returning to her childhood patch after having been seduced by the big city lights of Sydney and London, the town’s new GP, Dr Penny Anderson, attempts to right a wrong that has been a tradition since 1913 – although there was a mysterious incident in 1988 involving one Alexander Strumpet.

Director Selena Carr’s love and enjoyment of the play are obvious and forefront (as they are for the cast as well) in her direction and understanding of the nuances of human nature. There’s not a comic moment missed nor a heart string not tugged by Carr’s understanding and direction of the script.

The cast of five (Sonja Lawrence, Heather Riley, Chris Galipo, Hayley Mitchell and Kahlia Feuerreiter) are the quintessential ensemble. But that being said, all five have their moments of glory. Lawrence is the protagonist (or in most of the town’s eye, the antagonist) as Dr Penny Anderson. She slides smoothly from apprehensive to professional to feminist to angry to kind at the drop of a hat (or in keeping with the mascot of the show, a potato).

Riley is the bitter matriarch of the town and also sheds her layers of concealment well. Her study of a woman dealing with her own health problems whilst looking after her invalid husband is spot on. Galipo is absolutely lovely as the town’s “Auntie Barb” and her superb take on and delivery of her Act Two monologue is a lesson on how to captivate an audience and is worth the price of a ticket alone. As the town’s Bogan princess, Mitchell is a scream especially when coaching the boys’ Rugby team (after all, we are in the Eastern states for this story) and her dance routine to John Farnham’s Pressure Down in Act Two is hilarious. Feuerreiter tops off this wonderful cast by representing the multi-cultural side of the township with a lovely portrayal reeking of kindness and determination.

Samuel Creighton and Carr’s set design sets off this wonderful production perfectly. A basically empty stage is edged with ‘rusting’ corrugated iron that cleverly converts into a hairdressing salon and a doctor’s office throughout the play. Kudos must also go to the very efficient and silent stage crew – they’re like little Ninjas.

This is a wonderful feel-good show for Tea Tree Players and will have added appeal to those of you who have ever lived in an Aussie country town. The only thing missing in this great production is a Meat Raffle! So put all your potatoes into one sack and run (don’t walk) to Tea Tree Players’ The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race (you say ‘potato’, I say ‘great entertainment’).

Reviewed by Brian Godfrey

Photo credit: Tea Tree Players

Venue: Tea Tree Players Theatre
Season: Until Saturday 3 June, 2023
Tickets: From $19.00

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