The Great Fire takes place in the all-too-familiar Australian disaster zone: mum and dad's place at Christmas. On an idyllic Adelaide Hills property, a family gathers to decide the next phase of their lives as part of the ever-gentrifying arts industry in this domestic drama written by Kit Brookman. This reviewer should declare that, having been born and raised in Adelaide and therefore aware of the artistic prowess of the Brookman family there, I may be somewhat biased in my familiarity for this piece. Nevertheless, we carry on.

An almost flawlessly textbook example of realism, the attention to detail in The Great Fire is remarkable, due in large part to Michael Hankin and Charles Davis' design of creative clutter in the epicentre of the house. When the audience steps into the upstairs of Belvoir St, Lilly (Shelly Lauman) is already at work fastidiously preparing the kitchen sink for the imminent of arrival of someone, or something. Her first spoken sentiment of "stuck" sets the perfect tone for the characters' journeys in this mix between Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull' and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Relatives arrive as bonds of blood and romance are tested by the prospect of parents Jude (Genevieve Picot) and Pat (Geoff Morell) reoccupying the home. This move would effectively render their in-between children (Lauman, Yalin Ozucelik and Marcus McKenzie) fewer and further between in what becomes a very accurate analysis of how family dynamic interrupts career ambitions, mental health and senses of self in the modern age of Western individualism.

Unlike most theatre, The Great Fire's strongest moments are when more actors are on stage not less; a glowing remark on director Eamon Flack's channelling of energy into humour and nostalgia. One finds themselves wishing for more of this layer-cake traffic-jam of characters colliding was punctuating the come-and-going rundown of familial implosion. The arrival of the grandparents (a steady Lynette Curran and the hilarious Peter Carroll) just prior to interval takes the play into its funniest moments. Though their impact on the action appears minimal, their presence amounts to things that ought to be said to one are said to another, which is in essence a very astute component of the relationships on stage rendered by Brookman and Flack, with particular reference to the discord between the family and Lilly's husband Marcus (a spot-on Eden Falk). Adding to the confusion is the garrulous hippy neighbour Alison (a very convincing Sandy Gore), whose interruptive contributions serve to remind the audience that these characters are not for judgement to be passed on, perhaps not even to be understood; they are to be acknowledged for their flaws and loved regardless, independently of their struggle for individual happiness in amongst the collective melancholy.

The Great Fire is as well-polished a production as a show about messy middle-class family can be. For all that the climax of the work isn't nearly as dramatic as one might have hoped - although Ozucelik manages the snatch like an Olympic pro - the show is undoubtedly charming and honest in its portrayal of everyday people trying to defend the home they've built and move forward with their lives as individuals and as a cohort. There remains something in the performances for everyone; the pre-paternal panic of Ozucelik, the rousing third-act resurgence of youthful passion most gratefully handled with authenticity by Genevieve Picot, and themes of depression were given respectful treatment by the multi-dimensional Marcus McKenzie. Audiences can expect strong brushstrokes of emotion and empathy, which coupled with the vibe of Belvoir St, makes for a charming night of theatre. Tickets available on the Belvoir St website.

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From This Author Brodie Paparella

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