‘The Season at Sarsaparilla’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 29, 2013

The Season at Sarsaparilla – a charade of suburbia’ was crafted in 1961 by the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature winner, Patrick White. This beautifully written play, which is still as fresh today, has perfect dialogue being composed in the vein of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ written seven years earlier. It has everything from hilarity to the somewhat sad, pathetic life of one couple, through sexual frustrations to the prim and proper.

Although Patrick White was born in one of the wealthier suburbs of London, Knightsbridge*, he is considered Australia’s greatest twentieth century writer. He won almost every prestigious literary prize around.

He was brought up in Sydney, but being a delicate child, he lived with his nanny who stayed in the flat next to his parents’ home.

* For quiz goers, whilst on the topic of English, ‘Knightsbridge’ is the only English word with six consonants in a row.

This very well produced version of the play is being presented by The Harbour Theatre, in conjunction with the Patrick White Literary Estate. The season runs at the Harbour Theatre, Fremantle until Saturday 3rd August, with shows at 8.00 pm. There are matinees on Sundays at 2.00 pm.

The tickets are selling VERY well, and even though I went on one of the stormiest nights of the year the auditorium was packed.

 

The wonderful set must have taken many hours to construct. The stage is divided into thirds, to depict three brightly painted, pastel coloured houses, similar to a painting in the WA Art Gallery’s latest exhibition. The back wall of the house – nearest the audience – has been removed, so you can see straight across the back garden, over the planks around the under space and into the cramped kitchen / dinette.

Françoise Hardy can be heard singing on the radio. It is 1961 and the start of another day in the Sydney suburb of Sarsaparilla. Young teenager, Pippy Pogson (Darcie Azzam) is out in the back garden searching for the pregnant bitch that has been barking all night. ‘Bitch’ and ‘in heat’ being terms taught to her by Nola (Ann Speicher) the wife of the local night-soil man, digger Ernie Boyle (Kenneth Gasmier).

Pippy’s father, Clive (Michael Dornan) is a businessman interested in world affairs. He has strong opinions, but little tolerance of his smartly dressed, prudish wife, Girlie (Nicola Bond). Soon Pippy is joined in the garden by her best friend Deedree (Paris Doick) hoping to learn more of the street’s gossip. Meanwhile the strains of violin playing by Pippy’s elder sister, Judy (Chelsea Hankin) can be heard drifting from the upstairs bedroom.

On the other side of the Pogsons’ live the Knotts. Harry (Sam Christiner) is a caring husband faced with the imminent birth of his first child. His wife, Mavis (Teigan Isobel), staggers into the kitchen in search of her craving – bananas. Mavis has a brother, Roy (Mark Tilly) who is trying hard to write his first book. Roy also helps narrate the story.

Violinist Judy really fancies Roy, but it is the postman (Scott Wilson) that shows most interest in her. Then there is Julia Sheen (Olivia Clark), a beautiful young woman who likes to flaunt herself and is now courting a sugar daddy, Doug Erbage (Mark Edwards).

Will the ambulance driver (Brian Mahoney) arrive in time for Mavis? Will Ernie’s reunion with his old Desert Rat friend, Rowley (Trevor Dhu) go as well as expected?

 

This fifty year old play, thanks to the superb direction of Peter Kirkwood and his assistant Tina Barker, still has a fresh and exciting vibrancy to it. The directors employed the aisles of the theatre as the main roads and back lanes; this made the audience become part of ‘the street’. The performers were all very good, with special performances from Trevor Dhu and Ann Speicher; both these actors can always be relied upon to do a first class job, but this is them at their very best.

The chemistry between the actors was superb, even the youngsters, Darcie and Paris, gave convincing performances. The story demands that the action moves constantly from one house to another, so with appropriate dimming of lights and ‘freezing the action’ the pace flowed superbly. The dialogue has been built around vivid, rich characters and each actor has totally captured their personality.

The full upper-lid eye shadow, the large roller hair-dos (Nicole Miller and Rachael Knight), along with some wonderful costumes of the day, remind us how fashions have changed. The sepia photos (Julie Hankin) recreated for the programme is a fun touch showing how much thought has gone into the production. As always, the subtle touch of the lighting controls by Peter Kirkwood and Rob Tagliaferri and the carefully constructed sound by Vanessa Gudgeon gave a truly professional finishing touch to the whole production.

This insight to the occupants of the suburb is fascinating and has you in curious suspense as to the next happening. A very good production of an Australian classic. Highly recommended – if you can get a ticket.