The Ladies Foursome

The Ladies Foursome
By Norm Foster. Toowoomba Repertory Theatre. 17 February - 3 March 2018.

Toowoomba Repertory Theatre teed off their 2018 season with The Ladies Foursome, a comedy staged around a friendly game of golf. Three long-term friends (Tate, Margot and Connie), one player short due to the untimely death of their usual fourth (Cathy) are joined by a newcomer (Dory). Each hole on the course is a chance for the group to grapple with the game and parallel revelations about their friendships – especially why Cathy never mentioned Dory over many years of weekly golf meet-ups.

This is situation comedy on stage – carved up into mini-scenes. It is actually the perfect format for community theatre practitioners – minimal setting and props, and simple screen projections. Each scene is brief, every character has a showcase comic moment, and there is space between one vignette and the next for actors to catch breath and brush up on lines if needed. Although, this cast of Toowoomba locals has a wealth of experience between them in a cross-section of roles.

As Margot, the hard-drinking businesswoman, Helen Holmes adds a relaxed calm confidence to the stage; Anneke Shea’s Tate, the happily married Mom – or is she? – is a chirpy cartoon-like bird; Elaine Coates gives Connie the TV Anchor a sassy charisma, and Beth Geoghegan’s Dory has a cryptic outsider’s air worthy of a TV murder mystery.

Director Peter Devey proves he can elicit from his actors punchline timing and consistent comic characterisation. The cast even mastered the tricky Canadian accent. It’s just the pace of play that worried me – if this was a real golf course, the Marshall would have threatened writer, Norman Foster, with ‘slow play’.

Amazingly, Canadian Norm Foster is credited with being one of the most produced playwrights, with a play in production every year for the past 20 years. He is also often compared to Neil Simon. But, for me, while Simon is chipping in a swift birdie, Foster is still trying to hit out of the bunker.

As so often happens, the two-act formula lets down the material – and the cast and crew too. So, while the first half of Foster’s play moves at pace with a laugh a minute, the clunky second act feels as if the playwright ran out of ideas. I wonder if some of the course’s 18 holes could have been combined or severely trimmed to give the actors (and the audience) a better break.

Community theatre plays an important role in the creative life of its participants. It can also introduce audiences to the wonder of theatre. In fact, as a girl growing up in (then, seemingly sleepy) Toowoomba, I saw one of my first theatre performances at the Toowoomba Rep – a brilliantly funny production of Bullshot Crummond. I loved it and fell in love with the theatre.

The shortcomings of Foster’s play didn’t detract from the welcoming venue that is the Toowoomba Repertory Theatre and the hard work of the team involved. They have a cracking season coming up, with Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, Plaza Suite by Neil Simon, Glorious! by Peter Quilter and Carnival Hour Plays – premiere performances of the winners of the group’s annual playwriting competition during the town’s famous Carnival of Flowers.

Beth Keehn

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