Space Theatre, Tue 13 Oct
As soon as you enter the Space Theatre you begin this wonderful experience. All conventional seating gone, the floor is carpeted in parched grass scattered with gum leaves, and wooden folding chairs form roomy concentric circles around a central mound. Transported immediately to country Australia, you take your place in this gathering, gazing up at the huge, back-lit ‘sky’ and breathing the subtle scent of dust and eucalyptus. Brushing a fly – yes, really – from your face, you notice someone has brought their violin… oh and there’s another one… and is that a cello?? Okay. Nice.
Based on the short story Down At The Dump by Patrick White, this innovative and visceral production captures all the unmistakeable uniqueness of Australian life circa 1950s, at the edge of town, at the edge of poverty and at the edge of convention. Set in the fictitious Barranugli, the story unfolds around us as the actors use the layout to bring their characters to life.
The Whalley family, (Mum and Dad are still very into each other), are dump pickers, happy and loving despite their poverty, and the disapproval of their teenage son, Lam. The Hogbens next door; a cut above, he’s on the local council, teenage daughter Meg is skinny but smart and wife Myrtle is the grieving sister of Daise Morrow whose funeral focuses the action. We also meet Daise, in Spirit and flashbacks, and her dear shattered Ozzie, sharing their unlikely love story. Juxtaposed with the awkwardness of adolescent exploration, the scene where both relationships meld together is one of the most moving in this piece.
Through the excellent direction of Chris Drummond, the marvellous actors Paul Blackwell, Kris McQuade, James Smith and Lucy Lehmann transform themselves seamlessly into the members of this community, crossing gender and shifting physicality with extraordinary grace and fun.
Zephyr Quartet, under musical director Hilary Kleinig, composed the score, adding another dimension to this exemplary piece of story telling. Having the musicians play amongst the audience is gorgeous, often quite moving and very occasionally, made it hard to hear an actor who was turned away from me with a violin between us. I didn’t want to miss one word.
Michael Hankin’s design and the lighting by Nigel Levings create the atmospheric setting and mood shifts that allow this beautiful piece of work to fly.
But it is Patrick White’s luscious language that is the shining star over this piece of theatre, the deliciousness of its images often belying the squalor being described. Rich with sardonic humour, very familiar characters and a touching depth of human longing, this production is testimony to the ageless art of true story telling.
As Australian as a platypus pie-floater and as surprising as a huntsman in the letter-box, The Aspirations Of Daise Morrow is a must see for anyone who enjoys unpretentious and intelligent risk-taking in theatre, appreciates the value of beautiful words, or who has ever just wanted to be loved.
The Aspirations Of Daise Morrow continues at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times until Sat 24 Oct.
Book at BASS on 131 246 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.