Saturday 1 February 2020

Summer of the 17th Doll - Midsumma Festival review

Po Po Mo Co and friends
Ray Lawler's Summer of the 17th Doll premiered in Melbourne in 1955 and its public appeal stemmed from its distinctive Australian characters in a distinctive Australian setting. It resonated with Australians so much, that people travelled hundreds of kilometres to see it when it toured the country. A subsequent UK tour also saw it receive almost universal critical acclaim. Its impact has been long standing due to the discourse it created on the Australia way of life. Fast forward 65 years, and its recent production for Midsumma Festival will no doubt be sparking even more conversation.

Queer collective Po Po Mo Co bring together an assortment of performing arts makers who have been allocated a scene from the play. They are provided the freedom to explore, dissect and tear it up in any way they like, so while there is a queerness running through the scenes, the final product allows this to be presented with a variety of engaging styles.
Comedian Nikki Viveca is a highlight with her monologue as barbie-girl "Olive" for Act 1, Scene 2. Dressed and made-up in pink with matching accessories, she looks at the roles and expectations placed on women in a very natural and warm performance. There's a constant tonal shift between fantasy and reality that permeates in this piece that is comforting and provocative at the same time. Teddy Dunn and Christian Gillett's work with Act 2, Scene 1 is comically delightful as Barney and Emma have a glamorous sing-song on New Years Eve. The pair perform two well-known musical numbers linking to the idea of no longer being able to live in the dream and facing life's harsh truths. 

It's only natural that some acts will resonate stronger with different audiences, but each ones remains as true to the original text as it possibly can. However, Act 1, Scene 1 by Kerith Manderson-Galvin and Freya Pragt, is an awkward opening to the show that feels very disconnected from the other five scenes and unclear in what it is trying to say. The overall production could do with some tightening but this unpolished aesthetic greatly adds to its appeal.

Lawler made no apologies for the way he chose to examine Australian culture and relationships with this play, and so too do Po Po Mo Co and friends make no apologies with how they've chosen to examine Australian culture and relationships with this play. With their use of clowning, drag and performance through a colourful queer lens, this Summer of the 17th Doll rendition is a bold move that results in a surprising and entertaining evening that leaves you eagerly wondering what play Po Po Mo Co will be lovingly butchering next. 

Click here for my interview with Kimberley Twiner

Summer of the 17th Doll was performed on 31 January - 1 February 2020 at Hares and Hyenas.

Image credit: Hares & Hyenas

No comments:

Post a Comment