Monday, 1 September 2008

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe, Sept 1, 2008 ***

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe
By Louis Esson, by Here Theatre
Carlton Courthouse, until Sept 13, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3

The Time Is Not Yet Ripe, Louis Esson’s classic written in 1912, deals with an Australian Federal election. Astonishingly, the politics and politicians of 1912 sound exactly like those of 2008. Williamson’s Don’s Party, about an election night party, owes something to this play.

Esson might not be our greatest playwright, but he was a clever satirist and established Pioneer Players in Melbourne to reflect real Australian life rather than regurgitating English theatre.

“The time is not yet ripe for change,” repeats the Prime Minister (Kurt Geyer). “The people do not want change….they want to be left alone,” say others. Socialists fight amongst themselves, workers strike, women complain they have no power and can’t get the big jobs.

Social Reform Liberal pollies talk nonsense to get into power and the Socialist candidate (Grant Cartwright) tells his idealistic adviser (David Adamson) to “forget the facts”. An American businessman (Tom Wren) wants to exploit Australia’s natural resources while the country suffers long droughts and economic depression.

Jane Woollard’s high energy, often hilarious production has ten actors performing multiple roles. The style is broad and satirical, a blend of French farce, music hall, melodrama and early talkies. Characters pose for effect, stand on chairs to pontificate and every gesture has the exaggerated flourish of an Errol Flynn movie.

The versatile ensemble has a riot of a time mugging and rollicking. Cartwright is an anti-romantic lead as the upstart, socialist candidate from a rich family. Geyer booms as the Prime Minister maintaining the status quo. Melanie Beddie is marvellously blousy as the hypochondriacal wife of the Attorney General who is played as a grinning weasel by Don Bridges.

Ming-Zhu Hii (OK) plays the pretty, popular and totally ignorant daughter of the PM, who stands for parliament. Georgina Capper is rigid and dour as Mrs. Perkins, the suffragette, and Adamson’s sourpuss, British chauvinist butler is truly hilarious.

Amanda Johnston’s design is a rough collection of period furniture but, dominating the stage, is an enormous portrait of a merino sheep. Not only does it suggest that the country rides on the merino’s back but that its citizens follow the leader like a flock of obedient, stupid sheep.

The riotous scenes are peppered with choruses of songs including Jerusalem, The Internationale and In Loveland With a Girl Like You. This show is delightful, cheeky and uncannily apt for our times.

By Kate Herbert

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