‘AWAY’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 8, 2017

‘AWAY’ by Michael Gow is set in 1967, Curtin’s founding year. Now in its 50th year, to make room for the new Admissions and Student Advice Centre, Curtin is sadly saying farewell to ‘The Hayman Theatre Upstairs’ and the many memories – happy, sad and romantic – that ‘The Hayman’ has for us all.

This largely autobiographical play was written in 1986 by a Sydney-born playwright, who is also Artistic Director of The Queensland Theatre Company, Michael Gow. The play demonstrates the social politics and the variance in finances of several families. The play is still extremely popular on the Higher School Certificate syllabus for depicting Australian heritage.

This 2-hour, farewell production at the Hayman Theatre Upstairs, can be seen nightly at 7.00 pm, until Saturday 11th March. These final performances are in Building 102, Curtin University, Kent Street Bentley before the course moves to the New Hayman Theatre in April.

The ‘New Hayman Theatre’ is situated near the library. On coming out of the library’s main door, go down the ramp that is straight ahead and the new theatre is in front of you.

 

The set is comprised of a beige painted floor for the sandy beach, with a thin white line of spume and then a band of blue for the sea. A score of cream, 40 cms cubes represented the walls of buildings, and then sand dunes.

 

The quality lighting design was by production manager, Stephen Carr and operated by Jack Bengough – oops.

Bret Smith mentored Sarah Connolly’s sound design. A good selection of numbers from the flower power era that matched the script well. The opening number was little off-key, but the later numbers were powerful and melodious, with a good rousing chorus at the end of the show.

The show was stage managed by Jack Wilson and his deputy, Ellen Parfrey, with properties sourced by Kane Scriven.

 

       The 1967 Christmas holidays are about to start, and school is winding down.

       The sprites and fairies run onto the stage, and the audience find themselves as parents watching the last few seconds of a school production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Eve’. The Year 12 the dark skinned student, Tom (Noble Msimanga) who is acting as Puck, takes his bow. The surprisingly prejudiced headmaster, Roy (Matthew Arnold), congratulates his cast and their director, Miss Latrobe (Molly Earnshaw).

      After show, Tom meets attractive student, Meg (Kharla Fannon – very good); as she is praising Tom, her miserable, hypochondriacal, snobbish mother, Gwen (Anna Lindstedt – excellent) arrives. Gwen is bossing her hen-pecked husband, Jim (Sam Ireland); she then berates her daughter Meg for talking to boys – especially Tom, one of those ‘new immigrants from a strange country!’

      As the headmaster and his nervous wife, Coral (Lauren Beeton) leave the school, he starts to berate her for not talking to staff and parents. However, Coral is broken hearted at losing a son decades earlier, and is trying to come to terms with the constant grief and needs friends.

      Next day, all of the families set off on holiday. Meg and her parents are hoping to travel afar in their luxury caravan; however, Gwen is never happy or satisfied, and even sets up contentious situations.

        Tom’s blonde Aussie Mum, Vic (Dylan Dorotich – delightful) proudly cuddles her talented son; her black husband, Harry (Malek Domkoc) tells Tom how proud he is. Tom’s parents are struggling financially, and are enjoying a basic camping holiday.

       Due to a storm and 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.

        A squad of regular campers (Maddy Mullins, Hannah Miller, Diana Moss, Ashleigh Ryan) have grouped together to try to bully other holidaymakers into backing them on everything from new toilets, to ethnic cleansing for the site.

     In the evening, Coral (very good) tries hard and come out of her shell; however, she is gushing, and her overfriendly meeting with Leonie (Sally Davies) backfires. Not to be beaten she starts a passionate encounter with honeymooner, Rick (Max Gipson).

 

This is a wonderful script, a play I have seen many times and still enjoy. Adventurous director, Philip Miolin has skilfully thrown a new spanner in the works. He has replaced the Nottingham worker with a North African (Ethiopian?). Phil has ensured that the entire cast knew exactly what was demanded of their characters, and how they would react.

I have not seen several of these actors perform before, and so newcomers, Tom and his dad, were very good. There was plenty of chemistry, with some convincing arguments, and bitterness, mingled with the burning passion of Coral.

The costumes were perfect for the colourful late 60s. The flares, Paisley pattern and the cut of the dresses were excellent, well done wardrobe mistress, Evangalyn Little.