Fun at a dance class for senior citizens.

By: Apr. 12, 2024
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Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 11th April 2024.

Therry Theatre begins its year with A Short Cut to Happiness, a gentle romantic comedy by New Zealand playwright, Roger Hall, directed by Kerrin White. Regular theatregoers will no doubt remember the recent production of another of his plays, Four Flat Whites in Italy. The title references a quote from the 1957 novel, Ballerina, by Austrian writer, Hedwig "Vicki" Baum (January 24, 1888 – August 29, 1960); “There are a few shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them”. For this production, it has been reset in Adelaide in 2017/18.

Natasha is a Russian immigrant whose English, although she can be understood, falls far short of the governmental requirements for living and working in Australia. This is preventing her from pursuing a career as a music teacher. She has found work cleaning people’s houses, for cash-in-hand, but has decided to supplement that by giving international folk-dance classes. Single, retired, and a widower, Ned becomes one of her students, although, as he is the only one to arrive, and late, it almost ends before it begins. Natasha is ready to abandon the idea but, fortunately, others start arriving.

As the only man in the class, and available, Ned is instantly targeted by two of the single women, Coral, and Laura, who is pushed toward him by her friend, Janet The other two in the class are the rather odd couple, Bev and Ray, who wear matching outfits and fill every minute of their retirement in attending an endless string of classes of one sort or another. She is overbearing and he doesn’t get to say a word.

Ned manages to avoid the unwanted advances of Coral and Laura and they look farther afield. Found on an online dating site by Coral, the dashing Sebastian turns up, attracting the attention of Laura and, even though her husband, Ray, is there, Bev also makes a beeline for him. He leaves with Coral on one arm and Natasha on the other and spends his time thereafter alternating dates between those two women.

Natasha has bills and debts galore. Learning of her financial difficulties, Ned offers to help her to get her budgeting in order. As the cost of her accommodation is high, he offers her a spare room in his large house in exchange for keeping it clean, as a means to reduce her expenditure to help her get out of debt, but there are other, legal problems on the horizon, and it falls to him to assist again.

As Natasha, Shelley Crooks maintains a consistent accent and even sings a song in Russian, as well as confidently leading the class in a range of folk dance styles from Kalinka to the dance from the film, Zorba the Greek. The varied and lively choreography is by Rose Vallen. Crooks is superb in the role, embracing all of the ideas, the prejudices, and the upbringing of her character, faced with a very different life, very different people, and very different attitudes in Adelaide. Lindsay Dunn’s Ned is every bit the true gentleman, supportive, encouraging, welcoming, and helpful. Dunn establishes a strong rapport with Crooks, creating a believable character and presenting a convincing affection that grows the longer Ned knows Natasha.

Julie Quick brings a lot of humour to the role of Coral, physically clinging onto poor Ned at every opportunity, relentlessly pursuing him and laying claim to him, with more than a touch of desperation.

Laura and Janet, and their husbands, played mixed fours at golf, and bridge. With Laura’s husband gone, she is feeling out of place as those activities are no longer possible. The rather bossy Janet insists that Laura chases after Ned, more to re-establish a foursome than for Laura’s benefit. Janet is played by Gigi Jeffers, with Deborah Walsh as Laura, setting up a double act within the group.

It was no surprise that Sue Wylie gave a masterclass in scene-stealing as bossy Bev, leaving Greg Janzow to explore the many possible facial expressions and use of body language as henpecked Ray. Their synchronised movements as they stretched before dancing also kept the laughter going.
Frank Cwiertniak is Seb, creating a typical lounge lizard, well-dressed and groomed, bragging, with an endless string of tales about his past life, all aimed to impress the ladies.

Some of the dialogue was a little hard to hear at first, and some was lost through not pausing for the laughter. That should have been corrected by the next performance. The play is a series of short scenes, alternating between the church hall on one side of the stage and the living room in Ned’s home on the other. With no actual scene changing to be done, the breaks between scenes seemed far longer than reasonable, slowing the pace. Sean Smith’s many different pieces of music covering the changes weren’t enough to hold the attention. Hopefully, these breaks will speed up considerably.

Once again, Richard Parkhill turned in an effective lighting design, and the many costumes were organised by Sandy Faithfull and Gillian Cordell. It all adds up to an enjoyable evening of light entertainment that provides plenty of laughs. Treat yourself to a night out.


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