[THEATRE ~ SA]
Royalty Theatre, Angus St, Adelaide, Wed 9 Jun.
Written by Melanie Tait and presented by State Theatre Company South Australia, The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is an enjoyable and entertaining farce set in a contemporary Australian country town about to mount their annual Rural Show Day, which includes running a cherished potato sack carrying race. The cast of five females find themselves having to reassess the inequity in the prize money offered to the male and female winners when Anna Steen as Penny Anderson returns to her old home town and is stunned at the inequality she sees. She begins a campaign to increase the Ladies’ prize money and stirs up old antagonisms and meets considerable resistance. However the consequences of change and the potential for both positive and negative effects of technology soon confront them.
The performances are strong and there are some wonderful pithy moments and some astute barbs about unintended racism. The comic timing and dry delivery by Carmel Johnson as Bev Armstrong, the town matriarch and chairwoman of the Show, is especially a delight. Set in her ways, yet cognisant that things are changing, Bev learns to embrace a GoFundMe campaign on ‘The Facebook’.
Susie Youssef as Rania Hamid also delivers a memorable character showing quiet strength and understanding. Being the only one of the five not born and raised in Appleton, Rania adds depth to the script by demonstrating what it takes for a migrant to assimilate in a country town.
Sarah Brokensha as Nikki Armstrong also gives an engaging performance as a struggling single mother who gets emotional sustenance and prestige from being a champion at potato racing, demonstrating the poignancy of her restricted life. She is given two set pieces to show the strength of her character. Firstly as a sporting mum who barracks madly for her sons playing sport – we’ve all met them – while overlooking the fact that no such opportunities exist in the town for girls. Girls can only be cheerleaders, and a dance routine to John Farnham’s Pressure Down demonstrates the ways her enthusiasms were dismissed when she too was a young girl. Oddly she does everything she can to sabotage Penny’s attempts to increase the Ladies’ prize money – being a regular winner she is the one most likely to benefit financially.
Genevieve Mooy as Barb Ling adds some hilarity to proceedings when it is revealed that she had won the race some years previously dressed as a bloke and caused a Ladies’ prize to be added to what had previously been a strictly male domain. Critically, it is her vote that allows Penny’s campaign to continue.
While it might seem that a potato race in a country town veers dangerously close to trivialising the feminist cause, issues such as equal pay remain at the forefront of battles still to be won.
Katherine Sprol’s design appears simple but there is an ingenious use of corrugated iron, drop down props, and some floating quilted panels that centre the ruralness of the setting while allowing for a touch of whimsy.
The music which accompanies the performance is also effective, including a rendition of Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman as the actors take their final bows. Watching the two older cast members unconsciously sing along to the chorus is a wonderful moment.
The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race continues at Royalty Theatre, at various times, until Sun 19 Jun.
Tickets available at BASS and State Theatre Company. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Cover image courtesy of Matt Byrne