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Review - Once in Royal David’s City: star performance from Jason Klarwein

Above: Jason Klarwein and Penny Everingham’s Christmas morning.

Right:Christmas sing-along.

Deanne Scott's after-show photos follow the review.

Once in Royal David’s City

By Michael Gow

Directed by Sam Strong

Queensland Theatre

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Season: April 22-May 14, Running time: 100 minutes with no interval. Bookings: or 136 246

This is by far the most popular play Michael Gow has written since Away back in 1986. It has echoes too of his major hit – family Christmas at the beach, cancer, coping with death of loved one, political views – and even a tribute the historical theatre greats.

Gow uses every trick in the book as the plot jumps from spot to spot, subject to subject with gentle humour, pathos, slapstick and even a bit of song and dance and bad Christmas songs.

So this sad tale of loss is never down and dismal. Sure there is despair and denial, but this is tempered with hope and survival.

It has had rave reviews in this revival by Black Swan and Queensland Theatre (it was first produced in 2014) and the audience in Brisbane’s Playhouse lauded it to the roof on opening night. It was Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director Sam Strong’s directional debut for the company and he did a fine job with a difficult play.

So much credit for the success must go to Jason Klarwein who plays fading theatre director Will Drummond. The role is huge as he plays narrator as well as dropping into character for so many scenes. His performance is nothing short of superb from the moment he sees his production of The Importance of Being Earnest go belly-up when his Lady Bracknell walks out of the production to the final affirming scene.

The basic plot is simple: his planned Christmas on the beach is shattered when he meets his recently widowed mum Jeannie at the airport. She is obviously ill and instead of lying on the beach or swimming in the surf he sits by her hospital bedside after she is diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Jeannie is superbly played by Penny Everingham and even when she is unconscious or asleep she never out of the action. A flutter of the eyelids, a sigh, a slight movement in the bed: there was an actor who never stopped thinking for a second.

The rapport between the two never lapsed as they remembered; Jeannie bitter about her husband’s abandonment at the factory by his bosses and the stroke that crippled and finally killed him, Will trying to comfort her, talking while she is unconscious, anything to try to bring her back. Jeannie refused to believe her husband was fatally hurt and Will refused to believe his mother is a terminal case - scans on the internet showed him how she could be saved. The doctor dashed his hopes though with a dash of brutal reality.

There are other people though in this saga, several of the actors played multiple roles and created believable characters. Emma Jackson was Jess an enthusiastic teacher who in who tries to talk Will into teaching political theatre to her students, in a school where such material is a no go.

There were many more great characters: the overworked foreign doctor, the non-believing bible-basher, Wally, and Jeannie’s loyal friend, Molly.

There were spots when the play lost me, but all in all it was worthwhile to watch Klarwein show how good an actor he is.

Above: Crowded house: the after party crowd at Rydge's Hotel Soleil Pool Bar

Below: Theatre legends David Williamson and Michael Gow.

Jason Klarwein and Penny Everingham

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