‘Away’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by June 21, 2016

‘Away’ was written by the Sydney-born playwright and Artistic Director of The Queensland Theatre Company, Michael Gow. The story, which is largely autobiographical, was the winner of a New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award; it was first performed in 1986, and is still a popular play on the Higher School Certificate syllabus.

When the play was first produced, American audiences were surprised to hear that Australia even took part in the Vietnam War.

ARENA Arts and Entertainment are a highly respected WA independent, not-for-profit arts organisation, dedicated to supporting Community Theatre and Theatre for Schools productions. They are presenting this, their latest drama at The Latvian Centre (LC), 60 Cleaver Street in Belmont, conveniently situated just off Great Eastern Highway, a couple of kms east of The Burswood.

The 2-hour production is nearing the end of its season, with performances on Thursday 23rd, Friday 24th, and Saturday 25th June. All shows begin at 8.00 pm.

 

The set comprises several black rostra at heights varying from 20 cms to 1 metre across the rear of the stage. There are brightly coloured cubes acting as seats. An impressive tree fills one corner.

The clever lighting and sound design by Simon James gave the impression of a much more substantial lighting and sound rig. The sound and lighting operators were Callum Vinsen and Brendan Ellis.

Stage manager Simon James was assisted by ASMs Stewart Mulligan, Sarah Langridge and Gema Seenarain, who worked speedily as a team between scenes. They were helped by the sprites and fairies from the Shakespearean opening scene of the play. These fairy costumes were made by Phylissa Meagher and Chris Ellis.

 

       The audience find themselves as parents watching the last few seconds of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Eve’. The sprites and fairies fill the aisles and run onto the stage. Year 12 student, ebullient Tom (Brad Albert) who is acting as Puck, moves to the front of the stage and takes his bow. The surprisingly prejudiced headmaster, Roy (Andrew Smally), congratulates his cast and their director, Miss Latrobe (Gema Seenarain).

     After show, Tom meets attractive student, Meg (Madeleine Shaw). Meg’s hypochondriacal, snobbish mother, Gwen (Valerie Henry) is bossing her hen-pecked husband, Jim (Don Weaver), who loves Meg. Gwen then berates daughter Meg for talking to boys – especially Tom, one of those new Pommie immigrants!

     For their holidays, Meg and her parents are hoping to travel afar in their luxury caravan. Gwen is never happy or satisfied, and even sets up contentious situations.

     As the headmaster and his nervous wife, Coral (Stephanie Locke) leave the school, he starts to bully her for talking to staff and parents. Coral is broken hearted at losing a son decades earlier, and is trying to come to terms with the constant grief and needs friends. Perhaps her overfriendly meeting with Leonie (Sarah Langridge) or her passionate encounter with honeymooner, Rick (Stewart Mulligan) will cheer her up.

     Tom’s Mum, Vic (Phylissa Meagher) proudly cuddles her son; her ‘blue collar’ husband from Nottingham, Harry (Simon James) tells Tom how proud he is. Tom’s parents are struggling financially, and are heading off for a basic camping holiday.

     To everyone’s horror, it is not long before the headmaster and his wife, Meg’s family and Tom’s clan all find themselves in the same camping site for their 1967 Christmas break. The campsite has Christmas entertainment with Hawaiian dancers and a zany and enthusiastic Master of Ceremonies, (Michael Moshos), who parallels Ariel in the ‘Tempest’. However, the weather turns nasty and a storm causes destruction to the camping area – a real life ‘Tempest’.

 

Director Christine Ellis has lucidly directed this complex character study. Every person has been richly written, and in this production, we can immediately connect and recognise them with people we know in our lives.

The ARENAarts is always keen to give newcomers a chance to act, and in this play the impressive male lead was new to the stage. There were some very good performances, with ‘old troupers’ like Val and Simon giving superb performances whilst generously, but subtly, helping others around them on the stage. One actor was word perfect, with good powerful diction but was so locked off on the script that the acting suffered. Try to think what the words mean as you are saying them, and let your body go with the flow.

The pace was very good, and the mood of the play, which varied from hilarity to deep tragedy well displayed.

It was good to see Simon James – as good as ever – back on the stage, after years of designing the lighting and sound.

A beautifully written play, well presented with some very strong performances.