A holiday to remember.

By: Mar. 24, 2023

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 23rd March 2023.

Kerrin White directs English-born New Zealand playwright, Roger Hall's (Sir Roger Leighton Hall KNZM QSO) 2009 comedy, Four Flat Whites in Italy, to open Therry Theatre's 2023 season of four plays. I first encountered Hall's work when I played Hugh in a production of his first stage play, the 1977 comedy, Flexitime, known in New Zealand as Glidetime. He has now penned over forty plays, and this one lives up to his reputation for fine scripts. This has a few minor changes to account for the transfer of the characters from New Zealand to Australia, and update to the present. White has assembled a strong cast of very experienced actors and constructed a superb piece of theatre.

Adrian and Alison are Labour party supporting, retired librarians who have carefully squirreled away their savings over the years, have moved to a small apartment, and have planned an overseas holiday with their best friends. As Adrian puts it, it will be the "adventure before dementia". A broken ankle, however, means that the other couple cannot go, and they find themselves heading off with their wealthy new neighbours, Liberal party supporters, Harry and Judy. The two couples are like chalk and cheese but, as they travel from Venice, to Rome, and eventually stay in a Tuscan villa, they come to know and understand each other better, all four of them changed for the better.

Sue Wylie plays Alison, a control freak who has her holiday meticulously planned down to the last minute to take in all of the cultural and high art possibilities on offer. With her Lonely Planet guidebook in hand, she drags the other three around, reading out all of the information, in great detail, and boring them senseless. Any deviation from her plans or her budget sends her sulking, and Harry and Judy upset both plans and budget Wylie is wonderful as the initially uptight Alison, then building gradually to her highly sensitive handling of the poignant conclusion.

Adrian is played by Lindsay Dunn, sensitively portraying a gentle man who is quietly supporting Alison, while almost tiptoeing around her, trying not to make waves. It soon becomes apparent that their marriage is little more than sharing a house. All becomes clear later. Dunn adds plenty of laughs in his failed attempts to engage in a sexual encounter with Judy. He is also the narrator, linking each of the numerous scenes, and throwing in the occasional humorous aside.

Frank Cwiertniak gives a great performance as the crass, retired plumbing materials supplier, Harry, who misses no opportunity to emphasise that there is a very physical aspect to his marriage. Cwiertniak develops his character subtly, as Harry, guided by Judy, becomes more sensitive to the emotional and financial situation of Adrian and Alison.

Anita Zamberlan Canala plays his younger, attractive, second wife, Judy, who insists that she is not a trophy wife. She creates a wise and empathetic character, the oil who smoothes the troubled waters, and also adds some fun as a coquette, flirting with Adrian, which he mistakenly takes seriously. She does all this in a beautifully nuanced performance.

Rose Harvey and Sam Wiseman play a plethora of characters, from waiters and receptionists to a tourist trap Centurion at the Coliseum, and finish as a Count and Contessa, owners of the villa where the four spend their last week in Italy. It is in these last two larger roles that they get really a chance to shine.

Billed as a comedy, there are, indeed, plenty of laughs to be had, but there are some serious, emotion-filled moments, too. There is so much to recommend in this production. There is also excellent work on the technical side, from the striking set and atmospheric lighting, to the sound and costumes. Therry can be proud of this production.

Photography, Don Oswald.

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