Wednesday, 18 November 1998

Piccadilly Bushman , Nov 18, 1998

Piccadilly Bushman by Ray Lawler by Playbox Theatre
 at Merlin Theatre until Dec 5, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

When we think of writers of Australian theatre classics, we think immediately of Ray Lawler and his Doll trilogy written in the 50's. His plays dealt with the Australian landscape, language and character in a way that was provocative in its truth.

Actors no longer spoke with English accents, characters were representative of Aussie culture and dialogue was peppered with our slang. It was time for Australian Theatre to grow up.

Later, he wrote a lesser-known play, The Piccadilly Bushman, which premiered at the Comedy Theatre in 1959 directed by John McCallum Lawler was in England so this re-vamped incarnation is the first time he has seen it staged. Aubrey Mellor directs a stellar cast including Julia Blake, Rachel Ward and Frank Gallacher. Sleek contemporary design (Shaun Gurton) and evocative lighting (David Murray) establish a strong atmosphere.

The play, in spite of re-writing, is a time capsule and its naivete and datedness must be judged accordingly. For its time, it was progressive, provocative and perhaps risque. Today, it is tame and its issues predictable and unchallenging.

Expatriate actor, Alec Ritchie (John Walton) returns to his native Sydney after ten years of cultural cringing in England eliminating his Aussie accent ("It rasps the nerves like tearing tin") where he is a successful Shakespearean actor. He arrives with producer Vincent (John Finlayson) and script writer Stuart (Humphrey Bower) in tow, to make a film based on a gritty Australian novel written by Mick O'Shea (Frank Gallacher). He is cossetted by his ex-agent's wife (Monica Maughan)

He returns to his fraught marriage to Meg (Rachel Ward) who, with Chris her son, has been in hibernation here to eliminate her alcoholism, sexually predatoriness and offensive Aussieness. Daddy wants Chris to go to English boarding school. Mummy doesn't.

The minor players are the most effective. The two leads, particularly Walton, seem uncomfortable. Julia Blake as Elaine, Alec's wealthy Anglophile fan, is superbly detailed and hilarious. Terry Norris's cameo as her embarrassingly antipodean husband is wonderful. Finalyson plays the perfect snob. and Gallacher is compelling as the educated, earthy Mick .

The play is less meaty than The Doll but it attacks the issues of colonialism that forced most of our top artists, including Lawler himself, to rush off to London to talk posh and get a good job. Hollywood companies  now replace snobby Brit film crews but what’s changed? Our actors are still being whisked off to far shores for bigger bucks and larger audiences.

By Kate Herbert

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