‘Last Cab to Darwin’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 6, 2018

‘Last Cab to Darwin’ is a hilarious, yet powerful and moving play that was based on a true story and written by WA’s talented playwright, Reg Cribb. A warning, the play has adult themes and extremely coarse language. The book won both the highly prestigious Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2002 and the 2003 Western Australian Premier’s Award.

Old Mill Theatre Company is proudly and bravely producing this masterpiece at the Old Mill Theatre, on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth.

The two and three-quarter hour play can be seen at the earlier time of 7.30 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights until the 7th July. There are two matinées, one on Saturday June 30th and another on Sunday 1st July, both at 2.00 pm. Most night have already been sold out.

The main scenes: the time is 1995. Initially, a quiet street in Broken Hill. Various woop woop towns. The Northern Territory Parliament.

The sets are stunning. Rhiannon Walker is quite new to the set designing business, but these sets are outstanding. The opening scene of corrugated humpies and fences, with a water tower and telegraph poles, are backed by John Spurling’s first-class, well-researched AV projection. Both took the audience at once to that dry, remote mining town. The sets were constructed by Sheila Wileman and Cab construction, aided by Judith Gedero, along with Richard and Sally Hookway.

The lighting design by John Woolrych completely and perfectly captured the dry, dusty, stinking hot areas of Queensland and the Northern Territory. Callum Hunter smoothly operated the complex lighting plan.

The soundscape was true to life and one of John Spurling’s finest.

 

       The play opens with introverted bachelor, Max Bell (Rex Gray) the local taxi driver, being sick into a bucket. Next day, his Broken Hill GP (Val Henry) tells him he has terminal stomach cancer. That night, on visiting his local pub, the owner, Beano (Kit Leake) shows Max an article in the paper. It states that the ‘Mr Speaker’ – a Gough Whitlam twin (Martin Ralph) – of the Northern Territory Parliament is trying to introduce a voluntary euthanasia Bill.

       Max decides that as he is so ill, he should end his life with dignity and so tells young, alcoholic Dougie (Garry Davies) and his dry-humoured, drinking friend, Simmo (Jeremy Smith) that he intends driving 3,000 kms to Darwin. However, Max has not reckoned on the reaction of his Aboriginal neighbour, Polly (Beccy Garlett) a beautiful young divorcee, half Max’s age, who has a feisty exterior but a loving, heart of gold.

        Max sets off on the long dusty trail, stopping off at various outback towns, where the inbreeding is obvious. One town aims to be ‘Tiny Town of the Year’ that is if the Sir Les Patterson look alike judge, Ted Mingle (Martin Ralph) agrees. On the next section of his journey, Max meets an Aboriginal hitchhiker, Tilly (Lachlan Stokes) who introduces Max to a pub ‘for locals’ run by the strange Ms Stilton (Julie Holmshaw). On his quest, Max enjoys meeting two Scandinavian backpackers (Jaclyn Clarke, Mia Majella).

        Eventually Darwin is reached; and Max meets the euthanasia doctor (Andrea von Bertouch), who explains the legal requirements. Max becomes acquainted with his big-hearted carer, Julie (Vanja Clayton).

         For Max his journey is just beginning.

 

Director, Trevor Dhu has selected a magnificent versatile cast, and EVERY single one has given their all. Each actor plays several parts, and the director and actors have created rich, well-observed and fascinating characters so typical of the vast, sprawling bush / red desert.

Each actor changed their body language, accents, facial expressions and whole demeanour for each person they portrayed in the story.

The multitude of costume designs must have been a challenge, even for experienced Jenny Prosser. First problem was the era – although the towns depicted were a decade behind with their fashions. Jenny had to provide convincing costumes for local drunks, Parliamentarians, tourists, and the people from ‘nowhere’. As ever, Jenny’s outfits were perfect, many bringing a smile at the horrific fashions of 25 years ago.

The show was almost three hours, but the time flew. Not having seen the award-winning film, I expected a depressing storyline, but instead it was one of the funniest plays that I have seen. The dialogue was fresh, and so true of what the bush-dwellers would say.

Rex Gray has been in some memorable plays over the decades, but this massive and moving part was so memorable on so many levels. Beccy Garlett has, in four years, come so far from her ‘Metalhead’ stage managing, to this magnificent leading lady. The two actors shared every emotion and brought quite a few tears to the audience.

It takes a great deal to get me off my seat for a standing ovation, but in this case, I was one of the first up. A magnificent production with the best of chemistry and teamwork. Congratulations to all.