Review by Matthew Hocter
Amateur theatre is so many things, but most importantly it is the foundation for so many of the world’s greatest thespians. A birth place of sorts where actors are able to learn their craft, fumble and even fall. The importance of this type of theatre is often sidelined as nothing more than groundlings finding their way across the stage, understanding the importance of where their lines begin and end and a playground for adoring parents watching with pride as their child makes their stage debut. Theatre is so nuanced and beautiful, none more so than where it all begins.
Exploring Adelaide’s theatre scene was never something that I would have imagined myself doing in any capacity, not twenty-five years ago when I made the move interstate and not in 2022. Luckily for me, I love to be proven wrong and Adelaide, for all its small city vibes, has a rather interesting and somewhat vibrant theatre scene. One such venue that encompasses this new found vibrancy is St Jude’s Players in the seaside suburb of Brighton in Adelaide’s south.
Under the direction of Brian Godfrey with musical direction by Ben Stefanoff and movement coach Jethro Pidd, coupled with the two lead characters played by Ruby Pinkerton (Rose Fenny) and Gus Robson (Eddie Birdlace), the story of Dogfight was beautifully brought to life in Adelaide, a far cry from its original San Francisco setting, on the cusp of the Vietnam War. Although this was not a large scale production, the superb usage of lighting and stage, coupled with makeshift props, gave way for something far more sophisticated than what I was expecting.
Walking into this production, I was not overly familiar with the story, which I found to be advantageous given the underlying theme and how that may have affected my bias. The play is set in 1967 and 1963 respectively and tells the story of three marines (by way of Birdlace’s memory) on their last night out before being deployed into the then burgeoning Vietnam War. The “three B’s” as they called themselves (Birdlace, Boland - played by Simon Barnett and Bernstein - played by Steve Lewis), embark on a bet to see who could take the ugliest girl to a dance known as the “Dogfight Dance.”
Birdlace meets Rose, an unassuming waitress with a kind of starry eyed view of the world and uses her as collateral in his quest to win the bet. What he didn’t count on was just how much Rose would teach him in such a short time about some of life’s must fundamental lessons: kindness, compassion and even love.
From the stunning opening act, where the harmonizing and music was on point, backed by a four piece band nestled at the back of the stage, to the numerous musical numbers throughout the two act performance, creators of Dogfight, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have had their story beautifully presented on the other side of the world.
One of the highlights of the show was Pinkerton’s voice; crisp, clear and strong. It was beautifully put to perfection in Act one’s closing number, “Pretty Funny” and then again throughout the rest of the performance. Sarah Whalen’s character, the brash, world weary prostitute Marcy was also another stand out performance, along with Gus Robson as Pinkerton’s love interest, Birdlace.
Dogfight was an unexpected surprise from an incredibly talented cast and production team that will most definitely help shape the future of South Australian theatre.