‘Beach’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 19, 2014

‘Beach: A Theatrical Fantasia’ was written by Australian playwright Timothy Daly, whose 1993 play ‘Kafka Dances’ launched the career of Cate Blanchett. This 300-page play has been described as a quintessential Australian work, written on the beach as he watched the public disrobe and relax their guard on the warm sand. It was written in 2006 and went on to win a Patrick White playwrights’ award.

The 140 characters in the script have now been reduced to around 80 without affecting the power and gist of this two and a half hours long, enthralling, powerful play. It is comprised of rousing vignettes representing 250 years on the beaches around Australia.

‘Beach’ is being performed by the Second Year Music Theatre students, in the Enright Studio at WAAPA, Bradford Street, Mount Lawley each evening at 7.30 until Thursday 20th March.

The three-tiered seating is in an L shape, the stage is the ground level floor. The walls and floor are all black. Centre stage is a mound of sand, and along the back wall is a wooden jetty.

      A young angler in oilskins (Alex Thompson) is reeling in a large fish. Suddenly a pod of dolphins (the whole cast in matching black bathing costumes – superb opening scene) swims past. Des, the local tour guide (Morgan Palmer) arrives and hands out flyers for his trips.

     We find ourselves back in the 1800s, watching Lieutenant Henry (Joe Meldrum) meeting an Aboriginal boy who is fishing with a spear. They compare catches.

     Lying on the beach sunbathing in a skimpy bikini is Karen (Jess Phillippi), she is thinking of her beloved surfing boyfriend, Todd (Jacob Dibb). The local parson (Joel Granger) is preaching and perving as he walks along the jetty. Suddenly Karen’s miserable mother (Tanèle Storm Graham), an embarrassment to Karen and other beachgoers, appears on the scene and drags her away.

    Magda (Rosabelle Elliott) and her husband Karl (Alex Thompson) have just arrived from Israel, optimistically in search of a new life and are experiencing their first trip to the beach. However, for refugee Tariz Al-Whalabi (Daniel Ridolfi) and his sister, Aliwah Fakhouli (Heather Manley) meeting the power mad beach inspector (Taryn Ryan) is going to be an experience they would rather not have.

     An Irish stranger (Matthew Hyde) is watching a little girl playing with her bucket and spade. On the pier a council official (Callum Sandercock) introduces the Lady Mayor (Matilda Moran) who has arrived on Australia Day to hand out citizenship certificates to the new Aussies. Nearby a young Greek girl, Toula (Tayla Jarrett) is being ripped off by the local scum.

     There is a flashback 100 years, when we find Mr Hodgson (Chris Wilcox) taking Miss Peacock (Megan Kozak) in her Sunday best, for a walk along the deserted beach. Mr Hodgson is soon treated to a tour of the bush by his new love.

     Forward to 1967 when we find Harold Holt (Harrison Prouse) in the arms of his secretary, Dulcie (Baylie Carson) just before he goes for his fatal swim. When the Head Lifesaver (Kate Thomas) is called, she is so obsessed with red tape that rescuing a drowning swimmer is the least of her worries.

 A huge range of tales have been served as tasty morsels, some are light and pleasant, others have a bitter taste to them, but all of life is there on the beach. Some of the tales are tragic others hilarious, but the cast – who all had to play several characters each – gave the audience a wonderful night of theatre. The performers had 150 minutes of non-stop, hard work as they flawlessly changed costumes, accents, moods and eras.

One tends to think of the beach as an easy going, relaxing fun place, but occasionally it is a source of sadness. There was a huge demand on the cast’s emotional skill, with misfortune and tragedy around every corner, mingled with irreverent fun. The history depicted the many struggles that the beach had for the first pioneers. It really made the audience wonder, with so many dark episodes of anguish, if Australia should really be as proud of itself as it is.

The voice coach was senior lecturer, Julia Moody, who last year was nominated for a prestigious Equity Best Actress award. Accents are difficult enough to handle when a whole play is in one accent, but when the actor has to change back and forth this can be beyond even the most experienced actors. For this production, Julia has trained this cast to cope with Strine, Iraqi, Arab, Asian variations, Israeli, Greek and Scots – just a few of the accents in this clever show, every brogue was most acceptable and at no stage was the dialogue jarring.

Lighting designer, Max Wilkie, succeeded in giving warmth to the happy scenes and a cool threatening effect to the war scenes. Along with head electrician Brayden Daniels, Emma Brown and Joshua Punshon and operator Luke Ioppolo the lighting effects were outstanding.

Sound designer Ben Henry filled the air with 100 decibels of gun warfare, coming down to the most subtle of sound effects. Well operated by Kyle Long, crewed by Lewis Spragg and Cameron Murphy.

With the hundred costumes and unusual props, Production Manager Christabel Ataliah, and the stage team, managed by Kennah Parker, assisted by Eloise Hall and Sarah Oldham still ensured that the fast pace and emotion was retained.

The original, understated, melodic music was composed by Matthew Hyde, scored and performed enchantingly by ‘The Man from Another Place’.

This is the cast’s first major production. Being at the beginning of the students’ second year, one would expect to see them still feeling their way; however, in this magnificent play under the guidance of their Equity award winning director, Michael McCall, the actors all gave good, solid performances. It could have been a very worthy, third year production. McCall always manages to find the many innuendos and hidden messages that the average director would miss, and then bring them vividly to life. When a cast has such excellent rapport and chemistry, it inevitably indicates their appreciation of the director.

A fascinating storyline that held the interest throughout. This second year took on a difficult script and won hands down. Extra special. Be proud, you were excellent.