Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Book Club, July 26, 2016 ***

By Roger Hall
The Lawler, Southbank Theatre, until Aug 28, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 26, 2016
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed July 27, 20016 and later in print. KH

Amanda Muggleton
If you have ever joined a book club, you may recognise the motley collection of personalities in Roger Hall’s The Book Club as they bicker over their chosen scribe of the month and compete to produce the best, tasty snacks.

The vivacious Amanda Muggleton reprises the role of Deborah that she performed in Melbourne in 1999 and, although the play remains a gentle, predictable and conservative “slice-of-life-in-the-suburbs”, the character and Hall’s dialogue have been updated in this new production directed by Nadia Tass.

50-something, empty nester, Deborah, is a book-lover with an inattentive, unfit but sports-obsessed, lawyer husband and two adult daughters, so, to alleviate her boredom, she joins her friend Trish’s book club.

When Deborah hosts the club at her home, she invites local writer, Michael, to speak to the group about his book but ends up in a clandestine affair that brings more spice into her dull life than she anticipated.

Muggleton inhabits all the characters including snobbish Meredith from Toorak, Milly the warm Welshwoman whose husband is autistic, Stephie the Swiss seductress and PR consultant, pregnant, young Caroline, and the two men, Wally Deborah’s husband and Michael the philandering writer.

Alone on stage for 90 minutes, Muggleton engages directly and intimately with the audience as if they were with Deborah in her book-lined living room (designer, Shaun Gurton) as she relates her tale of books club meetings, romantic fantasies, infidelity and galloping guilt.

Hall satirises the suburban types as well as the self-indulgent novelist and Deborah defines each of the book club women by their reading habits (New Idea, Margaret Atwood, Nabokov).

Muggleton entertains with her animated face and flamboyant gesticulations while she chats conversationally with the audience as if they were her confidantes, reacting to their groans of recognition or delight with, “I know!”

There are some big laughs in the show, one being Caroline’s fat-faced baby that resembles Barnaby Joyce and the Greek woman’s hilarious mispronunciations that sound like obscenities.

The play has the potential to be poignant or even a tragic reflection of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, one of the book club’s chosen texts, but Deborah’s fall from grace ends happily, albeit unrealistically.

The Book Club may be a lightweight look at the problems of a middle-class suburban woman, but as Deborah’s mum always said, “No matter what happens in life, there’s always a good book.”

By Kate Herbert

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