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Review : The Great Australian Play at Theatreworks

Review By Kerrie Batrouney

The Great Australian Play tells of a Great Australian Legend, that of Harold Lasseter and Lasseter’s Reef. The play is an epic transition from the dying days of the 19th century to 1930 to present day. It is showing at Theatreworks in St Kilda. As we entered to the sounds of Men at Work, we knew we were in for a truly Australian experience! It is a play about writing a play.

The play starts with a story telling, this is achieved by using a backlit screen and the shadow of Lasseter, great use is made of the beaten Akubra for silhouette action! Lasseter tells the story of his original adventure into the centre of Australia, where he supposedly found an incredible gold reef, then was rescued by Afghan cameleers. Lasseter is played by Tamara Bailey who has a beautiful voice and ably conveys the charismatic and charming Lasseter, someone who was able to sell the dream of gold and 30 years later convince investors to commit a huge amount of money to launch an expedition into the red centre. The rest of the cast are an antithesis of the characters they are playing, non-white, non-male, as the writer Kim Ho plays with the comparison of Australia’s National Identity then and now. The other 4 cast members, Sermsah Bin Saad, Jessa Koncic, Karl Richmond, Sandra Umbagai-Clarke are modern characters who mingle throughout the play with the character of Lasseter.

The storytelling set the scene, then the play turns on it’s head and goes in a completely different direction! We are introduced to the modern-day characters who think to produce a play telling Lasseter’s story. We are quickly drawn into surreal vignettes that are sometimes weird and psychedelic and have only a tenuous connection to the story as the characters storyboard how to tell it. Facts about the legend are dotted into the pitches as the team develop their vision. The brave adventurers set out to follow in Lasseter’s footsteps telling of the misadventures and disasters that befell the exhibition launched in 1930 to rediscover the reef - if it ever really existed. The parts I enjoyed the most were the 2 songs, the lyrics clever and amusing, progressing the story. All cast sang well and combined with line dancing in the sand lightened the performance considerably.

The set design by Carmody Nicol consists of 2 whiteboards, a mound of sand and a deckchair, it nevertheless manages to convey the endless landscape and heat, this is reinforced by the excellent lighting design by Nick Molony.

I found the play to be confusing in a number of places, it’s satirical and weird, funny at times but I think I really didn’t understand large portions of it. And we got the message, since it was mentioned numerous times throughout the play…….. it was written by Kim Ho. I found myself wondering what a maze of a mind he must have! Ho was compelled to write this story due to a family connection and an heirloom copy of the memoirs of Fred Blakely, the 1930 expedition leader. What makes the story special is that the mystery still remains…. Did the reef ever really exist?

Image Credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn

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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