Away at Theatre Works - 120 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval
It is the summer of 1967 and the Vietnam War remains troubling. Young Australians are being drafted to serve.
Back home, life continues.
Tom (Rupert Bevan) and Meg (Cait Spiker) are in a high school production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Tom takes a fancy to Meg and engages her in awkward conversation.
Photos by Daniel Rabin
When their respective parents arrive to collect them, it becomes clear that Meg’s mother Gwen (Eleanor Howlett) doesn’t want her daughter to hang around with Tom.
Gwen is strongly opinionated, belittles others, complains incessantly and is forever turning to a Bex powder for relief from one ailment or another.
Her biggest defender is her husband Jim (Justin Hosking), who – though well-meaning – is clearly henpecked.
Tom’s parents – Vic (Stefanie Falaska) and Harry (Iopu Auva’a) – are enthusiastic, if not well-to-do, immigrants.
They arrived in Australia eight years ago and worry about their son.
Both families, along with the school’s headmaster Roy (Stephen Tall) and his wife Coral (Linda Cookson) are planning to celebrate Christmas on the Gold Coast.
Roy is embarrassed by Coral’s “weird” behaviour and calls on her to rein it in. With theatrical aspirations, she hangs about, staring and often says nothing.
In truth, she hasn’t been the same since the couple lost their son who was conscripted to fight in Vietnam.
On the Gold Coast, Coral tries to befriend a young married wife and mother, who it turns out has issues of her own, and a newly hitched tradie.
Coral’s relationship with her husband deteriorates and then a shock revelation changes everything.
Humour, conflict and anguish sit comfortably alongside each other in Michael Gow’s incisive look at Australia more than half a century ago.
Each of the performances is noteworthy. The full cast does a fine job with the material.
In an inspired showing, Eleanor Howlett’s over the top characterisation of the ugly Australian – racist and class conscious – is the standout. She dominates the stage in every scene she is in.
In an hilarious contrast, Justin Hosking’s deliberately cowering portrayal is a picture of restraint and frustration.
I greatly appreciated the yin and yang in Rupert Bevan and Cait Spiker’s teenager representations.
Linda Cookson leaves an indelible footprint as the unfulfilled, left of centre Coral, while there is entitlement about Stephen Tall’s depiction of the school head.
Stefanie Falaska and Iopu Auva’a display care and warmth.
Overall then, Away makes a strong and positive impression save for one thing I simply cannot countenance and which I am about to call out.
The amount of smoking in this production – half a dozen or more herbal cigarettes are puffed – is manifestly wrong. Never mind the nature of the fags, it is 2023 and this is theatre.
They stink up the place and patrons are forced to ingest the smoke.
What makes this worse is that it is such an easy fix.
Don’t light the gaspers. Just have them put to the actors’ mouths, as if they were smoking. We know what they are doing … and it achieves the same thing.
And before you think I am making a more of this than I should, I wasn’t the only one upset after the opening night performance.
Other than that, I would certainly commend and recommend Away.
Directed by Steven Mitchell Wright, it is playing at Theatre Works until 22nd July, 2023.