‘Mr Bailey’s Minder’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 7, 2018

‘Mr Bailey’s Minder’ is an amusing yet heart-rending and inspiring play by Debra Oswald; an award-winning writer who created ‘Offspring’, the Aussie TV drama about an obstetrician that ran for several seasons. Debra also wrote a dozen episodes for ‘Police Rescue’, and even a few ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’. Debra’s long-term partner is the ABC’s political reporter, Richard Glover; they have two sons.

This two and a half hour collection of character studies is packed with decency and genuine sensitivity. It is being presented by the Melville Theatre Company, in the Melville Theatre on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, in Palmyra. The curtain goes up at 8.00 pm each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening until Saturday 12th May. There is one Sunday matinée on 6th May at 2.00 pm.

 

The scene is Present day Sydney.

The set is the sitting / dining room of an old house.

On one side of the stage apron is a corrugated iron roofed, out shed that acts as a bathroom and dunny.  Next to it is a corner of the back yard, filled with debris and empty booze bottles.

The living room has a lime green wall that has been used in the past for Mr Bailey’s art practise. The rear wall is an exposed limestone wall, adorned with African tribal masks; the entrance to the kitchen leads off. The front door has a stained glass window. The staircase in the wings leads up to the bedrooms.

The rooms and furnishings look ‘diseased’. There are paint brushes and paint stained furnishings everywhere. A fridge door stands against a wall, acting as a paint brush holder. There is a pine table and chairs.

The set was designed by Vanessa and Lars Jensen, and aided in construction by Jacob Jensen and Ross Berkinshaw. The set was further decorated by Mark Tracey and Madison Sedgwick, with finishing touches to the set by Siobhan O’Gara, Di Ryman, Sarah Christiner, Bryan Du Bois, and cast. The stained glass panel was made by Tradition Stained Glass.

The show was stage managed by Jeff Hansen.

Lars Jensen’s lighting and sound design was operated by Vanessa Jensen. On a couple of occasions the lighting faded slowly, leaving an actor picked out with a spotlight. This technique tends to look gimmicky and rarely works, but with the long fade and the content of the dialogue, these effects worked very well.

The music used throughout, were snippets by very well-known Australasian groups.

 

       The once a famous artist, Leo Bailey (Alan Kennedy) now suffers dementia and hand tremors. He has given up painting, but his old works are still very much in demand and fetching vast prices.

      One of Leo’s daughters, Margo (Jayma Knudson) is high finance specialist, who dutifully but uncaringly, visits her filthy, foul-mouthed father regularly – or as little as possible, due to the tirade of abuse she receives at each visit.

      After a few months ‘out of work’, young Thérèse (Sjaan Lucas) grabs the chance of being a carer for an elderly gentleman; however, she has not reckoned on anyone like Mr Bailey. Leo Bailey’s only caring visitor is a businessman called Gavin (Jeff Hansen), who is Leo’s main source of grog.

      Margo has plans for Leo’s flat, and so calls in a shy and kind handyman, Karl (Phil Barnett) to carry out renovations.

      Can life be turning around for Leo and Thérèse?

 

The play was directed by Vanessa Jensen, who in the last decade has won several ‘Finley Awards’, the most esteemed Community Theatre honour. She has won a few ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Play’ awards. I have always looked upon Vanessa as one of the few directors that one can always rely upon for a magnificent, well thought-out and presented production.

Before seeing this play I was told by some regular theatregoers and actors that this was something very special, and to be sure to take a box of tissues with me. The script writing was amazing, but in the wrong hands could easily have been destroyed by a weak cast or an insensitive director; thankfully this was not so.

Oswald’s multi-layered, deep and personal writing showed Leo was not simply a miserable, bad tempered old man; there were many questions to be answered, why was he so obnoxious? Was he solely to blame? He actually had a huge amount of love to give. Thérèse had experienced a miserable life, but remained positive helping Leo through his challenges of insecurity and selfishness. Was Margo really uncaring, or was her attitude due to her past, or simply an inability to deal with sick people? Even Karl, a simple handyman, had several facets to his character; lonely and still suffering the taunts of being part of an immigrant family.

This magnificent cast completely captured every nuance of their characters.

Even basic emotion can be difficult to present on the stage, but the depth of the relationship between Leo and Thérèse was magnificent, a once in a decade theatrical relationship.

The restrained applause was not through lack of appreciation, but how can one clap with wet tissues in your hand? Many of the stunned audience were still sitting minutes after the show.

Magnificent. Exceptional! Booking essential.