By Eric Scott
By Michael Gow
Directed by Daniel Evans
La Boite Theatre Company
Season: October 25-November 13. Running time 120 minutes plus interval. Bookings: https://laboite.com.au/shows/away
The packed opening night audience was determined to enjoy a good night out with this 35th anniversary production of Michael Gow’s Away and enjoy it they did. When the show opened with a frantic finale to the school end-of-year play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which frenetic fairies flooded the stage before the closing lines from Puck, the audience joined the action playing school audience to cheer on the actors as they took their bows. And that was just the start.
It was a superb performance by a cast studded with amazing Brisbane talent with the likes of Christen O’Leary, Bryan Probets and Emily Burton for starters, and some neat direction from Daniel Evans.
The setting is Christmas time in 1967 and the action is set against the backdrop of an Australia embroiled in the Vietnam War. Three separate families pack-up their lives for Christmas at the beach where a freak storm forces their respective vacations to fall apart.
British immigrants Harry and Vic love their adopted country but are faced with their son Tom’s terminal illness. Jim and Gwen fret over their daughter Meg’s blossoming independence and her friendship with the socially 'unsuitable' Tom. Roy is unable to console a grief-stricken Coral over the death of their only son in Vietnam.
Away takes the audience on a nostalgic journey from suburbia to the Gold Coast’s glitter strip. It’s now a period piece, but peopled by characters that zing with life. Some things, some people turn up in every decade and in Gow’s play we recognise the type.
It was so pleasing to see 11 actors on stage portraying lead roles and 20-odd others between them and switching character seamlessly and with some mighty fast changes back stage. Period costumes, by the way were stunning. (Did we blokes really wear those shorts?)
Probets showed his talent as Roy, loving, angry and frustrated beyond belief as he struggled with his wife Coral’s inability to cope with the death of their son. He also brings light and laugher with his interpretation of the hula-skirted, coconut bra’d MC. As Coral Christen O’Leary once again showed the stage magic she possesses. I have never seen her “act” on stage; always she immerses herself so deep in the text that she morphs into her character. She totally convinced me she looked like Kim Novak!
Emily Burton added more joy as the supressed snob Gwen; she played on the audience emotions as we hated her, pitied her and laughed with and at her. As her long suffering husband Sean Dow earned all our sympathy.
The third couple, the English immigrants Harry and Vic, played by Kevin Spink and Ngoc Phan were again spot on – and Nottingham accent perfect. I’m Nottingham born and bred, so I should know.
The two young friends Tom and Meg, portrayed by Reagan Mannix and Billy Fogarty were perfectly cast, while Giema Contini, Roxanne McDonald and Will Carseldine rounded off a perfect cast.
It is a joyous night out.