St Jude’s Players. St Jude’s Hall. 8 Aug 2019
If ever a hike down to Brighton was worth its weight in gold, this play shines its value; even in abjectly stormy conditions.
Geoff Britain’s production is of such excellence that it may put much professional theatre in the shadows. So immediate, intense and committed is the work that there are times when one completely forgets one is in a theatre, so closely is one relating to the protagonists on stage.
Popular theory has it that people’s hearts beat in unison when in the theatre - and one would moot that this is an ideal example of an entire audience wedded in thrall.
It happens straightaway, from the stark spot-lit opening scene whence young Rosie steps to a city bench scene on the prompt wing and describes her lonely plight as a solo backpacking girl in Europe.
Heartbroken, she tries to list the things she knows to be true. They are few. She realises she has not grown at all. Rosie’s soliloquy is so superbly delivered by Zanny Edhouse that it is met with spontaneous applause.
Rosie is the baby of the Price family, an Aussie-everyman suburban family impeccably contrived by Andrew Bovell. He has settled them in Hallett Cove where dad, 63, early-retired via redundancy from motor making, grows roses and preens his perfect back yard. That yard with its lawn, rotary clothes line, shed, old gum tree and corrugated iron fences, is the core of his world and, indeed, of archetypal Australian working class family life. Among other things, Bovell’s play is a paeon to this leafy sanctuary of suburbia, and to the post-War values which created it.
While big-budget mainstream companies have sought to go minimalist and symbolic in representing this garden and its fly-wire kitchen door domestic scene, little St Jude’s with its compact proportions and volunteers' budget, has given versatile designer Ole Wiebkin free rein to transform the stage into a really vivid micro version of the real thing, complete with scaled down Hills Hoist. It’s a triumph.
The play tells of a year in the life of the Price family, the year in which Rosie comes home to a world presenting contemporary life challenges to her three siblings and her parents. By the end of the year’s upheavals, the list of things she knows to be true has grown, and so has she. It is not an easy journey and Bovell has thrown the family some fairly confronting and topical curve balls.
As the four children have to find and depart in diverse directions, the parents must contemplate their own relationship in an emptying nest.
The performances range from good to sublime. Joshua Coldwell and Leighton Vogt play the brothers, each on a fairly perilous trajectory, each deeply moving in their way. As big sister Pip, Cheryl Douglas softly treads the painful path as the victim of a fraught mother-daughter relationship. But it is Tim Williams and Nicole Rutty as the devoted parents who really lift the bar to excellence. These are two perceptive and commanding characterisations. Award material.
Bovell delves unerringly into the suburban psyche in this very loving play. There aren’t too many nerves it doesn’t tap and Geoff Brittain’s skilful directorial hand makes certain they are well felt.
At play’s end, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
This is a wonderful production of a wonderful piece of Australiana.
When: 9 to 17 Aug
Where: St Jude’s Hall, Brighton