Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The Great Australian Play review

Winner of the Patrick White Playwrights' Award, Kim Ho brings the great Australian play, aptly titled The Great Australian Play, to Theatre Works. This new satire begins with the Great Depression as Harold Bell Lasseter sets off on an expedition to find riches and salvation. We then fast forward 90 years to 2020 where Ho has persuaded Theatre Works that he can create the next great Aussie play around Lasseter's legend. He creates five characters to retrace the footsteps of the original journey, and it is here where things begin to escalate to horrific proportions.

There is enthusiasm in Ho's writing and he has clearly put in plenty of time and effort in creating this play, especially evident with the endless industry, pop culture and literary references. This results in instances of humorous scenes and laughter from the audience, but unfortunately it never goes beyond that. The frustration continues to increase during the two hour performance as we patiently wait for a satisfying narrative or a theme to form so we can justify its duration.

As it stands, The Great Australian Play cannot defend its length and is in need of some savage editing and figuring out what is trivial and what is important to the story. Do we really need to see Ho speaking to a painting of Patrick White about his writing? Do we really need to listen to a man enthusiastically shouting at us about the upcoming 30 years of Lasseter Cinematic Universe movies? Do we really need to watch a woman screwing the Earth with a dildo? And if we do, then the why needs to be clear. As mentioned, there are funny and entertaining moments but they are ultimately pointless in the greater tale that we're led to believe is being presented. 

Where the 'nightmare' of this play does succeed however, is with its design elements.  Claudia Mirabello's set is well used to ensure the vast harsh land of Australia is accurately depicted with mounds of red dirt covering the stage. Nick Moloney's atmospheric lighting - particularly with the scrim that runs along the back of the space, also supports this idea with its constant changes heightening the tension and drawing us deeper into this nightmarish world.

The ensemble cast - Tamara Lee Bailey, Sermah Bin Saad, Daniel Fischer, Sarah Fitzgerald and Jessa Koncic - work well together and all show strong commitment to their characters but leads to mixed success with material that is generally impossible to make gold from. 

The Great Australian Play demands a lot from its audience but the reward is very low. Yes, theatre is good when it makes you think and even work for the enjoyment, but Ho barely scratches the surface of the myriad of issues and themes he raises. Similar to Lasseter, it is something that promises so much but in reality you are left questioning just what it has actually delivered.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda 
Season: Until 29 February | Wed - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $20 
Bookings: Theatre Works

Image Credit: Jack Dixon Gunn

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