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Review: Appleton Ladies Potato Race at The Ensemble

By Carly Fisher

It takes a special writer to so honestly capture the Australian voice and deliver a script that raises important questions of equality, focuses on the truths of rural Aussie life and still delivers laugh-out-loud humour throughout, and yet, Melanie Tait achieves all that and more in The Appleton Ladies Potato Race which opened at The Ensemble Theatre this week.

The show focuses on five women living in a small rural community in Australia – a town where it seems everyone knows everyone’s business, community beats at the heart of all town happenings and change is so feared, it ought to be prohibited. GP Penny (Sharon Millerchip) has returned back to Appleton and after her exposure to the big city of Sydney and her time in Medical school there, she is less willing to sit back and continue to allow time old traditions to continue for the sake of continuity. When she discovers that the prize money for the ladies race at the potato festival remains significantly less than the male race, she decides someone must put an end to the inequality and sets out to right the wrong by raising the money to make up the prize money difference. This is met with great scrutiny – doors slammed in her face, internet trolling and all round bullying. And yet, she persists.

The ensemble cast of five includes Amber McMahon, Valerie Bader, Sapidah Kian and Merridy Eastman, who join Millerchip to deliver this perfect ladies night out at the theatre. A testament to the script, the show is a piece that is truly intergenerational – audiences of all ages laughed along at the witty lines as the women discussed everything from ‘the facebook,’ to single motherhood, migrant life, medical problems and small town life. The story is honest and the characters feel real.

The five actors are perfectly cast and each prove their unquestionable talents with perfect comedic timing and a strong empathy that allows these characters to evolve well beyond the stereotypical country bumpkin and into the fully fledged characters that we see before us. To pull any of the ladies out as the star would be unfair because of the extreme dedication it takes to achieving such a strong command of ensemble work. I have a great respect for what these five women have achieved together and thoroughly enjoyed watching them perform as such a cohesive`unit.

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set was strategically bare and made effective use of the small Ensemble space. Featuring nothing but the rear end of a dilapidated truck and an elevated stage that included two small revolves (which allowed for some beautiful images as they spun, delicately lit by Karen Norris, notably in the opening), the stage’s simplicity allowed us to believe we were in all areas of the town at all times – the local pub, the hair salon, the doctor’s surgery, outdoors for the big race, etc. Proving how momentous the race is in the annual calendar of the town, the décor all came out to play when it was time for the race and the addition of further set pieces here was clever and colourful yet still refined.

Directed by Priscilla Jackman, and worked on by a team nearly exclusively of women, it was wonderful to see a show like this take to the stage – it was just what I think we all need sometimes – a fun night out where we are still called on to think about important issues, but are encouraged to also have a laugh whilst doing so.

I hope that this is just the beginning for this production and that it sees many a revival beyond this. It’s a homegrown story that I believe would have success nation-wide.

Photo Credit: Phil Erbacher

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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