Theatre Review: The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race

An evening of the highest quality theatre full of comedy, tragedy and the day to day problems of living in a country town in 2021.


Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia

Reviewed 8th June 2021

Kathryn Sproul’s ingenious set provides the most imaginative playground for this funny, incisive and sometimes very moving new play by Melanie Tait. We are treated, through Tait’s recreation of the spirit of a rural town in NSW, to an evening of the highest quality theatre full of comedy, tragedy and the day to day problems of living in a country town in 2021.

Melanie Tait’s Appleton is a look at the way rural life has been affected by the 21st century and how it responds to the influx of sexual preferences, immigrant influences to food and attitudes and the adaptation of traditional values to modern ideals. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the content. The five women who drive this show are very good at their jobs. From high comedy to earthy, and focussed, determination to make change these women are fierce and funny and sometimes heartbreakingly honest.

How do you pick a favourite performer or moment out of the evening? Anna Steen’s Penny is a doctor returning to her roots when she takes up residence as the local doctor after her marriage (to another woman) breaks down after her move back home to become the local doctor. It provides some moments of joy, pain and hysterically funny situations; she’s the catalyst for change. Carmel Johnson as Bev gives a cracker of a performance, side splittingly funny followed by tear jerking pathos. Her performance was nuanced and very clever and had me reaching for my hanky a couple of times. Genevieve Mooy’s Barb is everybody’s country aunty full of heart, defiance and ready to take on the world if anyone threatens the people and places she loves. A deeply complex character, with a dark secret, given great heart by this versatile performer. Sarah Brokensha as the pivotal character of Nikki is brash, bold, local through and through, and full of great comic moments amplified by her ability to be totally honest and emotionally transparent when necessary. Her 80’s dance routine is worth the price of the ticket on its own. The hysterical response and spontaneous applause on opening night proved that! Carol Wellam Kelly’s spot-on choreography enhanced a gem of a moment. The team is made up by Susie Youssef’s Rania, a Syrian Immigrant settling into country life and being welcomed and made to feel at home in her new world. A performance full of heart and hope and in the very capable hands of this performer, most entertaining and endearing.

The ensemble work of these five women moved this new Australian work along at just the right pace, it is faultless. These women really know each other and we are allowed to be part of their lives for the duration of the Play. Elena Carapetis has handled this very clever script with a deft hand, it moves seamlessly through its 90 minutes inviting the audience to experience life in a country town with all its complexities. The relationships she has built with the company show in the way the whole performance moves on a flawless journey. The scene changes are part of the story and continue the action and Sproul’s clever use of moving corrugated iron walls, tapestries and emojis have just the right amount of information hidden in their simplicity.

Andrew Howard’s music was just right and gave that real Australian country feel to the environment and gave us the sense of being suspended in time. Just like it feels when you spend time in a rural environment that wants to hold on to its traditions. Nic Mollison’s lighting enhanced the space and The Royalty with all her dusty charm was a great addition to the piece; we seemed to have slipped out of Adelaide and into Appleton.

This is a really fun and immensely enjoyable 90 minutes of New Australian theatre. I was thoroughly entertained for the whole performance. If you want a good night out to take your mind off the problems of the world, go see it. A really uplifting and memorable night in the theatre. Oh, but it’s good to be back in the theatre!

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes 

Star rating: 5 stars (and that’s just the actors)

Venue:  The Royalty Theatre

Season: 4June – 19 June 2021

Duration:  Approx 90 minutes (no Interval)

Tickets: $39.00 – $79.00

Bookings: https://my.statetheatrecompany.com.au/overview/theappletonladiespotatorace

Photo Credit: Matt Byrne

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