Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Weather and Your Health, July 1, 2009, ***

The Weather and Your Health 
By Bethany Simons
La Mama until July 1 to 12, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 1, 2009

Perhaps you have a granny over 70, or know a woman who grew up in a country town or have a neighbour who talks about her childhood during the war. If so, you may recognise the simple, optimistic woman in Bethany Simons play, The Weather and Your Health.

Simons plays this relentlessly cheerful woman who prattles constantly about her life in Gilgandra – or ‘Gil’ as the locals call it – a small town in country New South Wales. When this woman was young, Dubbo was the big smoke and the main street felt so long, one might never visit a shop at the far end.

David Wicks directs the play with a light, playful hand, maintaining the innocence of this woman and never presenting her through jaded, 21st century eyes. She comes from another world – the past – where roles were clear, people were polite and paths were plainly set out for you.

Simons tiptoes, bare-footed, as if placing too much weight or making noise with her feet would be rude, or even a false assertion of her own importance. She is dressed in a colourful, 1950s frock, wearing a permanent wave, tomato red lipstick and a fixed smile.

This woman is no fool, she is merely committed to a positive world-view and does not know how to express such an alien idea as self-pity. Simons is charming and strangely doll-like as the woman who, we suspect, may be based on a family member from her own country childhood.

 She captures her childlikeness, strength and naivete. We see her joyfully revelling in simple pleasures: pining for a glorious red ball dress in a shop window, wearing the dress to a ball, dancing with a different boy for each tune or playing the piano every other week.

Although all the dialogue is hers, Simons is not alone on stage. Perched on a chair, reading the racing pages or listening to the races on his transistor, is her husband, played by Andrew Dodds. She refers to him like a shadow in her life, a presence in her home and in her past. He is symptomatic of the absent husbands or fathers of that generation.

When she meets him at the ball 50 or more years ago, his only responses are grunts. He speaks only once, in the final line of the play, to assure her, “You always were the prettiest girl in Gil.”

By Kate Herbert

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