By James Ong
Playing at the underrated Bondi Pavilion Theatre (quite an under-utilised space), Boy Out of Country follows a quintessentially occa Australian man named Hunter (Tom Harwood) as he returns to his regional home town after long absence. Upon arriving he finds the setting of his childhood has been warped by the passage of time, now plagued by progressive cafe-loving youths and greedy real estate developers. The house he was raised in is being prepared for sale by his brother and his progressively senile mother has lost her grip as the matriarch of the family. What’s left of this family is fraying and Hunter is fighting to pull together the life he left behind all those years ago.
Walking into the space, we’re presented with a bare-bones set and the meditative scent of rural Australian Fauna delivered in the form of essential oils. A moon-booted old lady sits in a nigh-catatonic state as we wait for the house lights to fade.
This new Australian work (written by Dr Felix Nobis) is an intriguing bit of theatre, simply by the inconsistencies we see over the course of its runtime. The 75 minute show (which actually ran for 105) juggled some quite touching and heartfelt moments, but was also frequently grounded to a halt by the need to give us extensive set up and backstory. The first 45 minutes had the audience bogged in exposition and jargon relating to housing commission and zoning laws, draining the natural energy one has at the start of any show. Vast stretches exist of no lighting, sound or set changes and this unfortunately left me feeling dull and exhausted once the heavy lifting was done.
Once the laborious groundwork was laid, the plot was finally able spread its wings and we were able to explore the truly interesting family dynamics. Tom Harwood’s Hunter was an earnest and relatable character as the runt of the family who seemed to put through self-imposed exile. Harwood must also be commended for his adoption of a rural Aussie accent, though his natural British twang did peek through from time to time. The clear standouts came in the form of the two women. Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame’s Rachel was played with an keen balance of intelligent strength and a touch of pride as Hunter’s ex-flame and now sister-in-law, while Jeannie Gee’s Margaret (the mother of the family) broke hearts as she illustrated the not-so-rosy side of regional Australian culture.
The final act introduces a very subtle use of Australian vernacular verse, driving with a rhythmic poetry that calls upon the works of Banjo Patterson. These short bursts of carefully curated staging gave a true sense of Australiana and the tasteful composition came as a pleasant change to the blanket of plainness that dominated the majority of the show.
Through the tiresome exposition and lack of creative variety, I see the bones of an enthralling and dramatic family drama. Compelling character relationships and a uniquely captured sense of Australiana do come through, but overall the work is hampered by awkward pacing and some uninspiring design choices. This almost minimalistic set and sound left a lot of the work to the actors to engage and capture the hearts of the audience and while there were moments of beauty, they were soon drowned out by the plain and left me wanting.
Photo Credit: Noni Caroll
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.