BWW REVIEW: A Hilarious Glimpse At Small Town Planning And Politics Plays Out In AUSTRALIA DAY
Thursday 16th November 2017, 7:30pm, New Theatre Newtown
The thoughts many think but will not share due to political correctness are given a voice with heart and humour in Jonathan Biggins' satirical look at small town society in AUSTRALIA DAY. First produced in 2012, New Theatre's Louise Fischer has gathered a wonderful cast to present a new interpretation of this piece of Australiana.
Biggins is well known for his involvement in creating Sydney Theatre Company's incredibly successful annual production of the WHARF REVIEW over the past 20 years and is incredibly skilled at capturing the political and social temperature of the country and AUSTRALIA DAY is no exception. AUSTRALIA DAY focuses on the proceedings of the small committee of volunteers that have come together to organise the small town of Coriole's annual celebrations. Coriole's Mayor and owner of the only hardware store in the town, Brian Harrigan (Peter Eyers), who has loftier ambitions for his political career, is joined by 5 other townsfolk. Crotchety builder Wally Stewart (Les Asmussen), retiree and apparent relative to half the town Maree Bucknell (Alice Livingstone), and Deputy Mayor Robert Wilson (Martin Portus) have all grown up in Coriole and have sat on the committee for years. Relative newcomers Helen McInnes(Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame), a member of the Greens party who has scaled back her ambitions for Canberra to provide a more stable environment for her disabled son and Kindergarten teacher Chester Lee (Lap Nguyen), sent along because the usual school representative was otherwise occupied, provide new blood, new ideas and new challenges to the somewhat stale old bunch. Tensions run high as attitudes to racism, ethics and environmental are challenged and the dangers of jumping to conclusions and stereotyping are exposed as the months roll on, indicated by the movement of trestle tables around David Marshall-Martin's (Set Designer) Scout Hall and the evolution of the answering machine message. Ensuring that the small town setting is obvious, Marshall-Martin has decked out the Scout hall with notices boards and maps, an impressive mural of what is to be assumed Coriole's wetlands and the obligatory picture of Queen Elizabeth II above the doorway.
Fischer has created a well paced production that draws lots of laughs as Biggins' delicious dialogue exposes the hypocrisy of humanity, from Helen's accusations that Wally is a bigoted racist but she continues to assume that first generation Australian born son of Vietnamese immigrants Chester relates to being a migrant, to the expectation that Robert will go along with whatever Brian dishes out for him, and, that just because Maree is part of the Country Women's Association she's automatically mild mannered and nice. For anyone who has sat on a committee, this work is instantly relatable, from the diversionary tactics taken by members, the ulterior motives, and the need for even the mundane to be debated. The plans that are taking shape are recognisable to anyone that has decided to show their community spirit and attend local celebrations for the country's national day, from the performances by school children, senior citizens choirs, scout groups and sporting clubs to the ubiquitous sausage sizzle and citizenship ceremonies.
Robertson-Cuninghame captures the sophistication of a city girl that has found herself in a small town, thinking she is above the townsfolk as she peddles her political views in a community unwilling to change as she makes assumptions about people she hasn't bothered to get to know. Nguyen presents Lee as the counter to Helen's abruptness and singlemindedness by presenting a voice of reason and awareness, particularly when it comes to human behaviour, having witnessed first hand how his school children behave. His expression when telling the group that society needs to stop telling every child that they are special is presented with an honesty and sensitivity so as to ensure that his statement is realistic and accepted.
Livingstone, who is also nominated for a BWWAward for her role in THE CLEAN HOUSE, delivers another fabulous performance filled with her wonderful comic timing, ability to deliver the dry wit with perfectly delicious subtle physicality. Her facial expressions as she deals with the pushy Helen are brilliant and her expression of Maree's discomfort at having to stand in, in costume, for the dance troupe's performance is priceless.
As grumpy stalwart Wally, Asmussen captures the stereotypical Aussie blue collar worker in both his appearance, speech tone and physicality. He gives voice to the fears that people have towards change and his fear of newcomers diminishing the world that he has grown comfortable with. Portus presents Robert as somewhat subdued and compliant, not interested in making waves, an indication of the deputy major's true aspirations rather than those that friend Brian believes he has. Eyers captures the carefully orchestrated persona of someone with sights on loftier political aspirations, needing to convey the image of an agreeable leader who wants to be seen to be caring and compassionate but really having a dangerous desire for success.
For anyone who has grown up in Australia or those wanting to learn more about their society, AUSTRALIA DAY is an enlightening work that whilst having a degree of predictability is entertaining and amusing. Well worth catching before the season ends.
14 November - 16 December 2017