Tag Archives: play

Review: ‘Two Weeks with the Queen’

29 Apr

Image courtesy of Roo theatre Company

If you’re planning on seeing Roo Theatre Company’s Two Weeks with the Queen, be sure to take with you two things: a sense of humour and a box of tissues.

Based on Morris Gleitzman’s 1990 children’s novel, Two Weeks with the Queen is told through the innocent eyes of 12-year-old Colin Mudford.

On a hot Australian Christmas Day, budding young scientist, Colin is upset about getting shoes instead of a microscope for Christmas, when his younger brother is rushed to hospital and later diagnosed with cancer.  Colin is sent to England to stay with his Aunt and Uncle and cousin Alistair, with whom he devises a plan to break into Buckingham Palace to convince the Queen to send her best doctor to Australia to help his brother Luke.  He later meets and befriends Ted, the only adult who isn’t afraid to say the word cancer.  With the help of colourful cousin Alistair and kind, Welshman Ted, Colin realises that the best doctors won’t help to cure Luke, but that having family around will make it a little easier.

Directed by Daniel Stefanovski, Two Weeks with the Queen is an uplifting story that deals with childhood cancer, HIV/AIDS, terminal illness and homosexuality.  However, the humour and childhood innocence helps to distract from these heavy issues, making a nice story that the whole family can appreciate.

Aaron Arvella as Colin is excellent.  His boyish energy and youthful curiosity make Colin an entertaining, likeable and relatable character.  Arvella’s strong performance leads the play and at times makes up for the poor acting by some of those in lesser roles.

Juran Jones is hilarious as the easily persuaded, overweight Alistair, who provides much of the comic relief.  His facial expressions and fidgeting were spot on and had the audience in stitches before he even opened his mouth. An unlikely ally to Colin, the strange character of Alistair was a definite highlight of the performance.

Other fine performances by Mahlah Hoffman as Aunty Iris, James Poole who played Ted and David Rienitis as Uncle Bob and Griff.

The performance as a whole was greatly let down by the multiple scene changes, which took up a great deal of time.  At times, the scene change took longer than the act, which interrupted the flow of the story.  This could have been overlooked had the sets been more impressive – it was obvious they were made during a working bee in somebody’s backyard.  Admittedly, the story is set in multiple places, however, this could have been overcome by one simple set, rather than attempt to cheaply recreate every scene.

Overall the performance was enjoyable and entertaining.  For an amateur theatre group, they managed to successfully portray the themes of love, loss and hope in this classic Australian story.


Review: ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’

26 Mar

Steve Le Marquand and Travis McMahon in ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’. Photo by Jeff Busby.

As someone who had never seen Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, I had no expectations before taking my seat, which was refreshingly rare.  With that said, however, I was aware that it is considered an iconic Australian classic, about four friends who spent the summer months in a house in Carlton together.  Walking out of that theatre though, numb from so much raw emotion, I can now say that The Doll is about so much more than I originally anticipated.

Set in Melbourne in 1953, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll opens to a stage transformed into a rather bare, old 1950s living room, which is decorated entirely with kewpie dolls.  The dolls represent a tradition of souvenirs brought back from the Queensland cane fields by Roo and Barney – a doll every summer for 17 years, hence the name.

Every year cane-cutters Roo and Barney have made the trip from Queensland to Melbourne to spend the ‘lay-off’ season with two local barmaids.  The foursome spend those five months of the year partying and enjoying their freedom. In the 17th year of their annual get-together, things are different.

Nancy, one of the barmaids, gets married, so her absence leaves a gaping hole in the once cozy set-up.  Pearl, a prissy mother, is recruited by Olive to fill that hole in a desperate attempt to continue the long-established tradition.

Unfortunately, it is clear to all, except a naive Olive, that things have changed and so the story unfolds with devastating consequences as the characters question themselves and realise that despite their best efforts to avoid it, time has caught up with them.  The 17th summer is the summer of growing up and letting go.

The remarkable cast of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll really bring this story to life.  Better actors could not be imagined to recreate this classic tale.  Each member of the highly-credited cast brings something unique to their character, each of whom are well-established.

Steve Le Marquand is brooding and manly as Roo, whose pride is everything, including his downfall.  Travis McMahon, who plays Barney, offsets the strong Roo with his boyish, often pathetic charms and larrikin nature.  The strong dynamic between Le Marquand and McMahon works well to create the tension between Roo and Barney, which comes to a shattering head in the fight scene – an intense display of masculinity.

It is the women, however, who steal the show.

Helen Thompson’s uptight Pearl is a favourite with her wit and humour, instantly lightening the often depressing mood.  Thomson brilliantly toes the line between being annoyingly disapproving and judgemental to the much-needed comic relief. The character of Pearl is a nice contrast to romantic Olive.

Blazey Best was made to play Olive, whose childish idealistic views leave her deep in denial of the wreck the 17th summer has become.  Best skilfully brings a great deal of depth to Olive, who is blind to the changes in her life, refusing to grow up when everyone else is around her.  Best is tough and stubborn, while at the same time dreamy and innocent.  She brings so much emotion to Olive, which comes to a gut-wrenching climax in the final scene.  Sprawled on the floor, so desperate, her moaning sobs echoing throughout the theatre, while everyone is left holding their breath, waiting for a happy ending – one that doesn’t come.

Robyn Nevin’s character Emma, the wise elderly mother of Olive, runs the boarding house.  Nevin proves her experience with a humorous yet, worldly rendition of Emma, who along with Pearl provides comic-relief in her snide remarks and witty opinions.

The youngest members of the cast, Eloise Winestock as Bubba and James Hoare as Johnnie Dowd, also provide outstanding performances.  Their youthfulness contrasts with the rest of the cast, and acts as a reminder that Olive, Roo and Barney are no longer as young as they think or act.

Everything about this play is realistic – from the simple set and the vintage costumes to the breeze blowing the curtain of the open window and the smell of bacon frying.  The typically Australian ocker-accent of the ‘olden days’, is used heavily, but adds to the authenticity of the drama.

As someone who has never seen Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, I can appreciate its timelessness and its relevance today.  It is a story that everyone, of all ages and from all times can relate to – about growing up, or refusing to grow when everyone else around you is moving on.  It’s about a resistance to change which is inevitable.  Director Neil Armfield, has done a wonderful job in recreating this masterpiece.  As an audience we bear witness to a significant time in the characters’ lives that is so intimate – full of change and upheaval, which is portrayed by the actors in such as a way that we immediately feel empathy towards them, drawn into the drama as more than witnesses.  It makes you question your own life and whether you can really see if for what it is, or whether we too are blinded by rose-tinted glasses.

To sum-up, I must borrow the words, as I can’t put it better myself:

“There are plenty of jokes but Summer of the Seventheeth Doll is a cynical and bruising work. It exists in a nebulous distance between classes and aspirations, an intersection between past and progress where nostalgic memories combined with cold realities of an imagined future provide prisons for the characters, partly self-made, partly societal, and fully, in some context, shared with audiences.

It packs a powerful punch, and Lawler’s words have a lot of swing left in them.” (Luke Buckmaster, Crikey http://blogs.crikey.com.au/curtaincall/2012/01/20/review-summer-of-the-seventeenth-doll-playhouse-melbourne/)

More reviews:

REVIEW: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – Crikey

Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – Brisbane Times

Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – Theatre Notes

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – The Age

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – Stage Noise

Preview: ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’

19 Mar

‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’. Photo courtesy of the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre.

One of the most iconic Australian plays is coming to Wollongong this week as part of the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre’s 2012 season.

Written by Ray Lawler and first performed in 1955, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is considered one of the first plays to distinctly portray Australian life.

Centred around four main characters, who meet in a house they share in Carlton every summer, the play is set during the seventeenth annual summer the protagonists share together.  This summer, however, is different.

Director Neil Armfield revives this classic tale, starring Blazey Best, James Hoare, Steve Le Marquand, Travis McMahon, Robyn Nevin, Helen Thompson and Eloise Winestock.

Opening night of the Belvoir Theatre company’s production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is Wednesday 21st March at Wollongong’s IPAC theatre.  The performance ends on Saturday 24th.