Australia Day

Australia Day
By Jonathan Biggins. Canberra Repertory Society. Directed by Cate Clelland. Theatre Three, 3 Repertory Lane Acton. 16 November – 2 December 2017

Culture clashes, racism, political correctness, internal hypocrisy, political intrigue, farce and a truly horrific school band combine to make Canberra Rep’s Australia Day a hilarious experience. This Jonathan Biggins hit from a few years ago is set in the small country town of Coriole, where a committee is meeting to organise the 2013 Australia Day celebrations.

The play is structurally a bit like Biggins’ later script, Talk, in that the first half is largely given over to plot set up and character development. This leads to the first section being fairly static, taking place inside a community hall with the characters for the most part seated around one large table, until some dramatic tension is introduced right before the break. Combined with slightly off comic timing (first night nerves?) this made the first half drag a bit. Luckily the pace picks up after interval, when events rapidly descend into a delicious farce where everything that can go wrong does, all accompanied by the aforementioned gloriously dreadful school band (and kudos for making that work so that it was funny but not painful), and an excellent sound and lighting design which combine to create a vivid thunder storm (fabulous work by Jenna Golab and Cynthia Jolley-Rogers respectively).

The characterisation is brilliant. Local CWA rep Maree (Micki Beckett), is a gutsy rural woman who uses wonderful earthy vernacular. Deputy Mayor Robert (Thomas McCoy) is a loyal, unquestioning friend to Brian (Pat Gallagher), the bombastic, overconfident Mayor who might be willing to stretch rules for political gain. Then there is unabashed racist and cantankerous old bastard Wally (Neil McLeod, relishing the role) who proceeds to abuse and insult with abandon. The main objects of his abuse are preschool teacher Chester (Jonathan Lee) and new Greens counsellor Helen (Sarah Hull). Chester is flamboyant but easy going, whose relaxed nature means he takes everything from cultural misunderstandings to near outright abuse in far better humour than it deserves. Greens Counsellor Helen (Sarah Hull) is beautifully drawn. She’s naïve, self-righteous, sanctimonious, and yet not above playing dirty politics if she can see an advantage.  As the play moves forward, the characters move beyond their stereotypes to develop depth, allowing the audience to empathise with each, no matter how flawed or hypocritical.

Anyone who appreciates their humour sharp, dry and full of authentic Aussie bluster will love this show.

Cathy Bannister

Photographer: Helen Drum

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