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Thursday, 20 March 2014

'TIDY TOWN OF THE YEAR' AND 'DIMBOOLA' dissected by Hayley

'Wait' I hear you cry. Hayley? I thought SOYP was written by Jane Simmons? Well yes, it is. But I can't be everywhere and this year there'll be chunks of time when I'm not even in the country so I figured it was time to train up a young apprentice (please say this as if you were the Emperor in Return of the Jedi). 

I'd like to welcome you to Gen Y reviewer, Hayley Dinnison. Her Twitter account describes as 'Writer. Editor. Ghostbuster', A triple threat. Her life is lived firmly within the Sydney arts and culture scene. A Film and TV Editor and Writer by trade; her heart lies with live performance. She is currently completing a Masters of Creative Writing and can be seen most nights in an audience somewhere in Sydney. 

Last week she caught 'Tidy Town of the Year' at the Old Fitz and 'Dimboola' at the King St Theatre in Newtown.

'Tidy Town of the Year', a prize the fictitious town Gandiddiyup is desperate to win. A prize that cleaner Pamela (Victoria Greiner) is heavily invested in, a prize that Rover (Andy Leonard) and Hope (Sarah Hodgetts) couldn't care less about. Three cleaners, each clinging to secrets that eventually worm their way out as they attempt to cover up what appears to be a murder, when they discover a torso in a motel room they are cleaning.

I am not sure if I would call this a “dark comedy”as that implies some sort of satire. This was much less dark and more toilet. From the moment that Pamela, notices a wet patch on the floor and dives to inspect it, smell it. Lick it.

High-brow no, Fun yes. The show was awash with playful banter and puns. I especially liked Pamela's rendition of Gandidiyup's Tidy Town song as well as Hope's striptease, they were very funny and well choreographed. The cast was evenly matched and their performances were sound. But nothing outstanding.

But the writing. Oh dear. Yes, there was some witty dialogue, however every piece of clever wordplay was almost always bookended with a poo or wank joke. The first half was unnecessarily wordy. It felt like every dirty joke I had ever been told was being yelled at me for sixty minutes. Directed by Deborah Jones, Sean O’Riordan and written by its three cast members, I think this might be a case of too many people trying to cram all their ideas into one play.

The set wasn't really conducive to the movements of the cast. They constantly tripped over the double bed. I understand it is a hotel room, but having a double bed on the stage seemed to really hinder the cast and restrict movement.

The second half improved slightly with the big reveal of Hope's character, which I won't give away, but it was a decent twist and the meat of the play. Finally substance. I was so pleased to truly feel something for one of the characters, only to have the whole thing end five minutes later.

There is no questioning that the writer/ performers have a sense of humour. But what could have really made this show into something stellar would have been a bit more vulnerability from the actors. Sure, we heard the backstories of all that ails the characters, but those moments were still shrouded in jokes. The saddest clowns are the best clowns and these clowns just weren't sad enough.

On to 'Dimboola'. From the moment I entered the lobby of the King Street Theatre I left the gritty, humid Newtown behind me and was dragged into the tacky cliched world that is a 1970's Australian, country wedding. The large ensemble cast of 'Dimboola' weaved their way up the stairs through the lobby shouting drunken obscenities to one another, their commitment to character never wavering. The audience crowded into the foyer as the cast continued to mingle. They chatted about the wedding proceedings that we were all meant to have attended, reminding us of what our role was as an audience member was to be, guests at a wedding reception. The sherry snifters were snapped up fast and the theatre is finally opened.

The stage is set as you would expect for a wedding reception, A long table across the back of the stage with a portrait of good ole' Queen Liz looming over the proceeding. The cast bustle in, arguing over who gets to sit where, not unlike the audience. The energy is electric from the high paced banter. The cast eventually settle in as do we the audience, for a night of booze, laughter and punch-ups.

'Dimboola', written by Jack Hibberd, is a tale of two families coming together to celebrate the union of Maureen (Reen) and Morris (Morrie) in the most cliched, VB soaked wedding this side of Kalgoorlie. The plot is loose and the language crass, which is what you would expect from a country Australian wedding. The start was a little shaky, the lines delivered a little too forcefully. But as the VB started to flow the characters took over the actors and the one-liners started to hit the mark. With such a large ensemble cast (at least 15 on stage at any given time) it was sometimes hard to know where my focus should be. When a character would claim a scene, they would take the floor, and stand front and centre.  I felt like they could have come up with something a little more creative to shift the focus from character to character.

If the first half was vulgar, the second half managed to pummel the audience even harder with crudeness as the cast descent into total inebriation reaches terminal velocity. The speeches flow as articulately as smothered farts, the bridegroom only managing to garble out “no worries” about a million times before he fell face first into the wedding cake. Finally the two families meander off the stage, Queen Liz's portrait tucked neatly under the arm of one of the guests and we are done. The reception a shambles and the performance a rip-roaring success.

Letitia Sutherland as Agatha (Aggie) was a particular highlight, her journey from staunch, spinster into half-cut horn-bag was as perfect as it was hysterical. Special mention must be made to Tim Matthews and Michael Yore as Bayonet and Mutton. They had me at “Drop dead you old Goanna”. The inclusion of the band “Lionel Driftwood and the Pile Drivers” gave an air of authenticity to the performance, really transporting the audience to Dimboola and the small town sounds that accompany it.

I need to also make mention of the fact that not only was this is Darcy Green's directorial debut, he also stepped up into the role of Horrie in the place of Benjamin Vickers. I would be really interested to see what Vickers brings to the show because Green nailed the character. Green, with clever casting has successfully revived 'Dimboola' for a contemporary audience. It is particularly relevant with all the commotion of gay marriage damaging the purity and sanctity of traditional weddings, this highlights the reality that no matter what you are, you throw some alcohol in the mix, even the most pious will fall from grace, and under a table.

I felt like I had just been on a joyride in the back of an old Kingswood to the wrong side of town and back again. Messy, loud and enthusiastic. I couldn't look away.

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