BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Growing Older Plays Out in TRAVELLING NORTH

BWW REVIEW: The Challenge Of Growing Older Plays Out in TRAVELLING NORTH

Saturday 10th February 2018, 7:30pm, Genesian Theatre

Genesian Theatre starts off its 2018 season with David Williamson's TRAVELLING NORTH, a middle class story of finding love, moving on and getting older. Sahn Millington (Director) brings this work based on 1970's Australia back to the Sydney stage almost 39 years after its debut.

For the 21st century, this story of an older couple deciding to live together and move away from family to start a new home in warmer climates is not as groundbreaking or scandalous as it once may have been but there are still moments that resonate. The cohabitation, out of wedlock, of the septuagenarian Frank with the 50 something Frances is no longer shocking but the response of Frances' children to the prospect of loosing free babysitting is still a relatable as are the challenges of an aging body and the propensity for the medical profession to try to simplify explanations.

Williamson's work is presented in a series of short scenes which set designers Sahn Millington and Debbie Smith have tried to accommodate on a relatively sparse stage where the rear wall is framed by a floral creeper clad lattice and a 1960's style wickerwork screen and shelving with bench seat. A kitchen bench which doubles as a backyard barbeque is wheeled on along with a small wooden bar trolley to represent the doctor's desk. Economical use of folding chairs provide the limited seating which, when considered with the plastic stemware and plates also gives the production a more budget appearance than normal for a Genesian performance. Even with the minimal set the transitions lag and slow the pace of the production further than necessary.

Of the seven performers, the stand outs are Dave Kirkham as Frank and Courtney Fleming as Joan who both present natural, realistic performances. Kirkham captures the increasingly crotchety old man who has been used to an outmoded patriarchal society where he believed that women were there to serve him and were incapable of intelligent conversation. He has a cadence that ensures Williamson's text is delivered with an ease to make it plausible that he's come up with the lines himself rather than remembering a script as he transitions from the nice man offering promises and platitudes to the obnoxious invalid having Frances row him around the lake and drive him to doctors appointments. Fleming, as Frank's daughter Joan presents the younger daughter as a no-nonsense realist with a believable presentation of a young educated woman ready to tell her father some home truths.

The character of Frank's doctor has been altered for this production, casting Sandra Bass instead of the original male. Bass is also relatively strong, delivering a dry humour to the albeit restricted role. Frank and Frances' rural neighbour Freddy is presented by Peter Irving Smith with the ease of typical friendly country folk with a degree of awkwardness expected from someone wanting to try to make friends with the new strangers but the character doesn't seem to ever grow out of his social ineptitude.

The presentation of the three core women, Frances and her daughters Sophie and Helen however are much more stilted. Whilst Megan Shooter, as Sophie, has a degree of comfort in her role as the daughter who wanted to go to university when she was younger, Jane Thorpe and Lauren Birdsall as Frances and Helen respectively are much less convincing in their roles. Both are deliberate in their movements, not giving any sense of spontaneity and their speech is over played explanations rather than natural interactions. Thorpe does little to convince the audience that Frances is really in love with Frank making for an awkward lack of chemistry as Kirkham's presentation of Frank's initial earnestness is not reciprocated. Whilst Shooter has opted for a more naturalistic tone and accent, Birdsall has chosen to present Helen with an overdone posh tone which to some degree works with her character's desire to please the wealthy family she has married in to but comes off with an uneasy pace and diminishes any possible sincerity.

Understanding that Genesian Theatre presents amateur and Pro/Am theatre which can be of varying quality, this production is however one of the company's weaker works which could have benefited from a longer rehearsal period and more adventurous creative vision. Whilst TRAVELLING NORTH still holds some relevance in its presentation of growing old, dealing with illness and being set in ones' ways, it isn't really exposing any new ideas or challenging behaviours and lacks the entertainment or comedy values to allow this work to sit as a purely entertainment piece.

TRAVELLING NORTH

Genesian Theatre

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From This Author Jade Kops

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