Sunday, 29 April 2012

Australia Day, by Jonathan Biggins, April 26, 2012 ****

Melbourne Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company co-production
Playhouse Melbourne Arts Centre, April 26 to May 26, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Geoff Morrell  in Australia Day, MTC

IF YOU WANT SOCIAL SATIRE and some huge laughs at the expense of­ – well – just about everyone in our sun-drenched country, Jonathan Biggins’ Australia Day is just the ticket.

In a smallish, coastal Aussie town, six members of the local Australia Day Planning Committee meet to plan a memorable Australia Day with citizenship ceremony, children’s choir, sausage sizzle, SES display, 20-20 cricket match and other cliché activities.

What can go wrong will go wrong and everything does go wrong, which provides a rich source of comedy for the skilful cast playing recognisable Australian types who cannot even agree on what kind of sausage to barbecue.

The ambitious, self-serving mayor (Geoff Morrell) stumbles to manage conflicts arising between bleeding-heart, Green council member, Helen (Alison Whyte), and Wally (Peter Kowitz), the conservative, bigoted, country Aussie who resists multiculturalism or any change in his hometown.

Robert (David James) is just a good bloke who wants the celebrations to run smoothly, Marie (Valerie Bader), a CWA member, struggles to understand Twitter and Facebook and Chester (Kaeng Chan), the perky, young teacher, makes a joke of every racist comment about his Vietnamese heritage.

The belly laughs of the opening scene arise from the Australian slang and behaviour as well as the clash of ideologies and potted political rhetoric.

The high comedy escalates until it turns a sharp right at the end of Act One with a moment of dramatic conflict when the issues of bigotry become more personal for Helen and Wally.

Political principles are pitted against personal ethics in the second half as the Committee members attempt to run the celebrations from a tent while participants suffer food poisoning or get drenched in a thunderstorm.

Director, Richard Cottrell, maintains a cracking pace in this production and, although some of the dramatic conflict feels contrived, it is balanced with the broad comedy, hilarious dialogue and characters.

Despite its lightness and comedy, the play challenges our beliefs about Australian identity, asks us to respect the rusted on values of the old Aussies who resist change and to consider what Australia means to this country, if anything.

By Kate Herbert

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