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Review – Summer rain: light-hearted look at outback life in the 1940s

By Lilian Harrington



Summer Rain

By Nick Enright

Musical arrangements by Terence Clarke

Villanova Players (VP)

Ron Hurley Centre, Community Hub,

28 Tallowwood St. Seven Hills

Season: 13-28 November

Bookings: Desley 0423920832 or Try booking, or villanovaplayers@gmail.com

Summer Rain is set in 1945, in a drought stricken outback town, Turnaround Creek in N.S.W. on Boxing Day; it shows the difficulties that locals face living in the outback. The message of drought, post war hope, renewal, recovery and forgiveness, is kept light- hearted, but the show gives a good perspective on an outback community in the 1940’s.

Enright’s musical contrasts unexpected events and makes way for change; for instance, when Harold Slocum’s Family Tent Show, becomes stranded and arrive in town, down on their luck, broke and desperate for an audience, it rains! They prove to be a welcome diversion for the townspeople , even though Harold Slocum is not welcomed by the angry publican Barry Doyle, from the Shamrock, who remembers an illicit affair that occurred when Harold Slocum was last in town, however, the mayor is insistent that they stay on a few days until the Creek subsides.

This musical is not easy to mount on the smaller stage especially in a community theatre where financial restrictions and stage limitations can impact the show. But Villanova Players have been nurturing talented players for some years now and they’re not put off from production challenges.

When Summer Rain was first presented in 1983 by Sydney Theatre Company it received a mixed reception; for instance, while it was said that the women’s roles were well written and helped ensure that the storyline was tight and focused the musicwas not well received. This V.P. production tries to convey the message through warmth and charm shown by a wide variety of characters, and there’s a good mix of humour, comedy, and drama, however, the music and text are not memorable. Some scores are hard to listen to, despite strong performances from actors such as Priya Shah (Joy Slocum), Nikolai Stewart (Johnny Slocum), and Deidre Grace (Mrs Ruby Slocum).

The stage has always been a strong medium for stating the concerns of the day and sadly, only a few local musicals have been written about Australia. This stage production focuses on outback life in the 40’s through the eyes of the Travelling Tent Show characters and the locals of Turnaround Creek, embellished and coloured by song and dance, movement and symbolic colourful costumes of the era.

Opening night saw some unwanted “first night” technical hiccups e. g. in lighting and some stage movement. The stage design was planned with revolving buildings which cast moved and locked into place at scene changes. The band was seated up-stage behind the revolving set; this limited the upstage space and negated a clear line between the band and the stage set.

Because of the way Summer Rain is written the production needs a sharp, focused, energy, especially in the introduction, when the salubrious proprietor of the Travelling Show sets the scene. Audience welcomed strong character performances from Leo Bradley (Barry Doyle), Cecilia Girard (Peg Hartigan), Doyle’s daughter, who played the frustrated “40s” housewife, trapped within the confines of her marriage; the talented Lillian Dowdell (Cathy Doyle), Doyle’s hot- headed teenage daughter; and Phillipa Bowe (Maisie Trengrove), Master of Ceremonies at Turnaround Creek.