Review by Ellis Koch
Lemon Tree On Dreg Street, according to writer Amy May Nunn, began as a writing exercise during lockdown and was never meant to make it to the stage. Coming in at 70 minutes in length and incorporating elements of music and poetry, this “ode to those who slip through the cracks” is an endearing and entertaining piece of theatre. The characters are distinct, imaginative and colourful. On the surface, at least in regards to naming convention, there is a simplicity in these characters – Cow Girl (Milo Hartill) is a girl who loves cows, Vulture Man (Alex Donnelly) is a property developer, Possum Lady (Michelle Perera) lives under, and is deeply in love with, the titular Lemon Tree. Boots and Twiglett (Hayley Edwards and Ayesha Harris-Westman) both evoke a simple Australian character, somewhat bush, somewhat earthy, with a languid pace of life that occupies a special place between youth and early adulthood – the dreamy days you live before the hustle and bustle of life overtake you. Indeed, the whole seventy minutes feels like that moment in time - the last hurrah before the responsibilities of the future catch up with you. The dialogue is pacey, though, and littered with sharp little quips brought wonderfully to life by the energetic cast. Michelle Perera is wonderful at offering up an age-worn drifter, older and wiser than the rest of the characters and clinging on to the one moment of peace and happiness they have found since their own sleepy dream of youth was whisked away. Michelle’s delivery is excellent – it lifted the energy at the beginning of the piece and carried it along until the arrival of Milo Hartill’s Cow Girl who carries on like a whirlwind, her mind and mouth a-flutter of exuberance. Alex Donnelly’s Vulture Man brought to mind a flamboyant Austen Tayshus, blokey, oily but kind of sensitive – a wonderful portrayal of a shady character with a redemptive arc. Hayley Edwards and Ayesha Harris-Westman both give delightful, engaging performances as the characters of Boots and Twiglett and provide the raison d'être for the play but it’s the three aforementioned characters who really move the piece along – particularly Possum Lady whose marriage to the Lemon Tree provides most of main drive to the story. Under the strong hand of director Miranda Middleton the excellent cast extract warmth, joy and laughter out of Amy May Nunn’s pleasant lockdown dalliance. The costumes are takes on everyday modern clothing – simple but effective (Although I would say Vulture Man’s Rather Excellent boots were anything but simple) and each outfit containing something related to the character’s name – Vulture Man has feathered shoulders, Possum Lady has a grey fur trim on her vest etc. These simple adjustments to modern garb give the characters an anthropomorphic vibe and, along with the set design – a child-like, Play School-esque interpretation of a front yard, house façade and accompanying lemon tree – reminded me, rather pleasantly, of Australian children’s television from the 90s, particularly The Ferals. These elements also gave the impression of backyard, suburban, share-house fantasy – the types of stories that might arise from spending long days on the porch with your housemates weaving the characters and characteristics of your neighbourhood into imaginative and playful fancies. Casey Harper-Wood, who designed both set and costumes, really tapped into the pulse of the play and brought these elements together in a way that elevated the piece. The play incorporated music throughout with original compositions by Oliver Beard. This was used effectively and the a cappella singing from the cast was lovely. Their voices blended well and the melodies were sweet and gentle. Lighting design by Aron Murray, in conjunction with Oliver Beard’s sound design, gave us sunrise, warm morning and moonlit night to the accompanying sounds of cicadas and birds, the rustling of leaves in the wind. Like a dreamy, summer’s day on the outer edge of Australian suburbia.
Dreg Street could be your street. Your house. Its occupants could be your housemates – maybe now, maybe from some nostalgic memory of your past. We occupy a moment in time together. Our experience of life is constant until we die . . . but each individual moment that makes up the whole experience is transient. We pass through with each other. We mean things to other people . . . and then one day it’s gone. They are gone. We move on through life and discover new experiences and new people to experience them with. We talk about the fantasies of the future to soften the blow of moving on. These are the roots of nostalgia – our fond memories are formed in these moments, forged by the highs and the lows we share with those around us. Lemon tree on Dreg Street is a gentle celebration of these things – youth, love, dreams, family of choice and the inevitable closing of a chapter as another one begins.
Image Credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn