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Review - Toy Symphony: a quality production

By Lilian Harrington

Toy Symphony

By Michael Gow

Directed by Michelle Carey

Ad Astra Productions

57 Misterton St. Fortitude Valley Q 4006

Performance Dates April 21 – May 20.Season sold out.

Australian, Michael Gow has won several awards for his complex, and inspirational works; Toy Symphony, was set in the 1960s , but it was first published by Currency Press in 2008, and although it’s one of his lesser known works. It premiered at Belvoir Theatre, Sydney in 2007, and won several awards.

It was the first major work from Gow in ten years and was thought to reflect some problems he had had himself as writer. In this play, Gow makes an important statement on the problems that a writer can be faced with when suffering writer’s block“.

It tells the story of Roland Henning, a writer in turmoil, (played sensitively and skillfully by Gregory J Wilken), who is in search of inspiration and who needs to seek professional help. He reflects on the various stages and events from his own life, and his past experiences and seeks for an “aha moment” along with a sense of belonging.

In his confusion and frustration over his state of mind, he receives professional help from therapist Nina, (played by the talented Caitlin Hill), and through his reflections and recollections with her, he recalls scenes and events from his past that have had an important influence and helped shape his life ‘s journey.

Because this play was set in the 1960’s some of the values, attitudes and beliefs expressed are different from today however, an audience needs to understand that these were the customs and habits of that era.

Cast members are required to play multiple roles from Roland’s troubled past. We learn of his talent as a budding writer, and how this has made him an isolate. It affected his behavior and has caused him to rely on other means as a source of comfort. The influence of his early, difficult school years in Como, Sydney; his kind, and encouraging teacher, Mrs. Beverley Walkham, (played by the irrepressible Bernadette Pryde), the hardline principal who shows little understanding of Roland’s writing talent, and his one friend Nick, (Greg Scurr), the bullying he endured, juxtaposed with his skill to conjure up life-like images of famous celebrities and people from history, (Samuel Webb and Lachlan Stuart) is quite quirky.

Director, Michelle Carey and her team, have shown some creative initiatives; for example, the basic set design was made up of old “60s” suitcases, and as the scene unfolded there were some important changes made to these e.g. early in-class scenes for 5A, were replicated by the hilarious Mrs Beverley Walkham, using an old over- head projector and chalk board strategies along with a suitcase lid as a conductors stand and suitcases as desks. Because Carey had the actors in well- costumed multi-roles, they supported and tapped into the rhythm, and energy from Wilken, who portrayed a strong characterization of Roland Henning, as he developed and orchestrated his scenes, e. g. the scene between Steve Gooding (Samuel Webb) and Roland Henning, over a drug deal, showed sharp contrasts and good intention.

This production was staged in an interactive style, and audience walked through the set initially, alongside screened off acting areas. The building structure was utilized as part of the set, allowing for some special lighting and sound effects to capture the scene; important statements were written on the walls to tag key events in the play.

This boutique production company, Ad Astra, is emerging as an important professional theatrical company, which mounts quality works aimed to wow and impress audiences in this unique space in The Valley. Do not miss this quality production it will enthrall you.


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