BWW Review: A Beautiful Australian Story, AWAY Is A Touching Look At Friendship, Families, Fear And Forgiveness
Saturday 4th June 2016, 7:30pm, Riverside Theatre, ParramattaMichael Gow's (Playwright) AWAY, the latest offering from Sport For Jove, is presented with heart, humour and honesty as the lives of three families unfold. Starting in a 1967 Australia that was dealing with the Vietnam War and still feeling the aftermath of the World War II, this moving work continues to be relevant as it shares the ongoing human struggles with death, prejudice, depression, addiction and relationships.
Lucilla Smith's (Set Designer) simply dressed stage is a combination of clean slopes and levels with banners of white muslin reaching down to sand coloured floor. A pile of blinking lightbulbs and makeshift representations of the accoutrements of war help to draw the audience into the understanding that the work is set in a time where the country is dealing with its youth being sent to war. With the addition of a range of small items like luggage and picnic gear, the string of lights and the swathes of cloth help transform the spaces from the High School stage, suburban homes packing for holidays, lavish ballrooms and beachside campsites. Smith's innovation to create the turning point of the story is a wonderfully creative expression that creates impressive visuals.
The premise of AWAY is that high school friends Meg (Georgia Scott) and Tom (James Bell) have just performed in the school's end of year production of Shakespeare's DREAM and following Headmaster Roy's (Christopher Tomkinson) closing speech, are about to head off on holidays with their respective families. The three stories of Meg, Tom and Roy's family holidays unfold, giving insight into the vastly different families, each with their own secrets and struggles.
Whilst the set gives clues as to the era, Jonathan Hindmarsh's costumes help ground the work in the late 1960's. Headmaster Roy's dress shorts and knee high socks are priceless and Coral's evening gowns are wonderfully elegant. The orange cheesecloth clothes for Fairies in the High School production of Shakespeare's DREAM draws on the hippies that were also prevalent at the time. Teacher Miss Latrobe's(Amy Usherwood) Mod dresses and tights show the variety of styles from the period.
Co Directors Damien Ryan and Samantha Young have created a beautifully simple expression that showcases the performers and Gow's text. There is a subtlety and honesty in the expression, ensuring that the characters remain real and multilayered and aren't turned into caricatures or stereotypes. Ryan and Young have also included a wonderful physicality to the work, from the ballroom scene where couples are trying new dance moves amongst a conservative crowd to the fierce storm that interrupts Meg's family's holiday and the teens scampering around the sand dunes.
As Meg's parents Gwen and Jim, Sarah Woods and Berynn Schwerdt have created recognisable Australian characters but ensure that they aren't turned into caricatures. Gwen is a highly strung martyr with prejudices against migrants, the poor and generally anyone that she believes isn't trying to better their lives. Woods captures the rants and negativity with conviction and sincerity that Gwen honestly believes her discrimination and condescension is acceptable. In contrast to Gwen, Jim is calm and seeks to keep peace in the house, particularly when Meg has her moments of wanting to rebel against her mother's views. Schwerdt presents Jim as a somewhat downtrodden husband that knows that his wife is ill but doesn't know how to help apart from trying to reduce the triggers to her outbursts. Schwerdt captures Jim's friendliness and general good nature as he tries to talk to the various people that he comes across, despite Gwen's opinions and behaviour.
Danielle King and Michael Cullen portray Tom's parents, English migrants Vic and Harry, with a lightness that belies an underlying weight of secrets. Both King and Cullen give the hint that something is wrong with their enthusiastic praise for Tom's performance and their individual insistence that Tom show the other parent that he's enjoying their no frills holiday. The pair presents as calm, friendly, grateful for the little they have, and particularly, the opposite to Gwen.
Strained couple Headmaster Roy and his wife Coral are portrayed by Christopher Tomkinson and Angel Bauer who tackle the grieving parents with a poignant expression of the pain they are experiencing. Tomkinson presents Roy's calm exterior with a reserved respectability and contrasts it with the frustrated pained anger that he expresses to Coral when they are alone. Bauer presents the source of Roy's frustration, the closed off, traumatised and depressed Coral with the fragility of someone trying to cope with the loss of a child in war and wanting to make her husband believe that she is getting better.
As with other Sport for Jove works, Ryan and Young have created a work that blends the humour and fun of iconic Australian mannerisms with the gravity of the serious issues that underlie the three families' problems. Gwen's rants are at first seen as a caricature of a suburban housewife but then we quickly see that there is a deeper issue at play. Meg and Tom trigger memories of the awkwardness of youth before he makes the propositions her and lets her in on the secret of his urgency. Coral's silence and then over communicating has a sad humour when it's clear that even though she's connecting with people as Roy wants, she is far from better.
AWAY is a beautifully presented production that provides a wonderful bit of nostalgia whilst tackling a range of weighty topics. The elegantly simple set and the creative somewhat abstract expression and balance of movement and stillness complement the wonderful performances. A must see at either Riverside Theatre Parramatta or during its following season at Seymour Centre.
Georgia Scott presents Meg with a cheekiness typical of a teenager as she navigates the flirting Tom and her neurotic, uptight, shrill mother. She gives her the sensitivity of a child that knows her mother isn't well and wants to try to keep peace but also the rebellion that has had enough of pussy footing around and putting up with her mother's narrow views. There is a shyness, fear and caution as she deals with Tom's advances. Similarly James Bell also brings out Tom's boldness as he tries to convince his father to let him have a beer, contrasted with an awkwardness as he tries to tell Meg he likes her. He conveys Tom's desire to keep his parents happy and not let on that he has his own secrets with a subtleness that initially comes across as simply a good child that is grateful for whatever his parents can give him.
Riverside Theatre : 2 June - 6th June 2016
Seymour Centre : 22 June - 25th June 2016