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Review: Three Weeks in Spring at the State Theatre

By Carly Fisher

In the right venue, on a more appropriate scale, Three Weeks in Spring, certainly has the musical legs to carry through an entertaining performance. However, this was a perfect example of a small scale production shooting too big, too quickly and unfortunately the artistry and quality of the production was made the worse for it.

Set in the grand, deluxe State Theatre in Sydney, no audience member arrives at the venue without a particular expectation of the standard of performance they are about to witness. Unfortunately however, when you are in a venue with capacity for more than 2000 people and share the room with only a couple hundred, the space feels empty and the experience immediately jarring. In a theatre like the New Theatre or the Seymour Centre’s larger venues, this show really could have had the opportunity to fill the space…and the audience, and, in my opinion, would have been more at home there.

With the use of tiered rostras and ladders to make up the set (largely appropriate just lacking in further design elements that would have enhanced the visual of trenches) and a projection screen that, though displaying beautiful artworks, was largely distracting to this reviewer, the stage was set and the large cast weaved throughout with a nice delicacy. I loved the use of height on the set and as important announcements were made by big-players like Monash from the top tier of the rostras in an Evita-like stance, the grandeur of the space was more appropriately realized and the rankings of the men at war most successfully established. I commend the set designer on a creative take on the notion of trench warfare and his decision to build up rather than down to best utilize the space at hand.

The music by Ian Gerrard and Russell Tredinnick is very good. I can see why, after having recognized the quality of some of the songs that they had created they chose to pursue the production of the musical with such fervor. Although I felt that the show as a whole was unquestionably too long and in need of a big cut of at least 30 minutes, I can see how they may have struggled with which songs should go – the music is this show’s saving grace and it is a fine example of the standard of what extremely talented composers and lyricists we have in Australia.

Ensuring that the music was well displayed was the largely talented cast. As Private John Simpson, the man with the donkey from your World War I history books and the hero of this particular story, Lincoln Elliott shines and you cannot help but sit there with a big smile on your face in recognizing the absolutely incredible opportunity of performing such a massive role on this iconic stage that this show has offered Elliott. He is perfectly cast, carries the show extremely well and this is certainly a break out role for him that I hope helps propel his career on the Australian stage. Also a stand out, Matthew Herne as C.E.W. Bean, the official war correspondent whose narration (in an impressive high tenor range) carried the story for much of the lengthy musical.

Truth be told, it is at this point that I wish I could tell you more about the very talented women who filled the stage because some of Sydney’s brightest names of independent musical theatre made up members of the Ensemble and sadly were completely underutilized. With only a few songs featuring women at the forefront and not in a pretty harmony as a group on a side stage back platform (marked by clunky entrances and exits onto stage consistently), it was a shame not to hear more from this talented group. When we heard them, they were gorgeous – Courtney Powell as Hannah Monash and Clare McCallum as Matron Grace Wilson are two soloists who really stole the stage not just with their vocals, but also with their offering of these women who, yes were fearful and delicate but who were absolutely backed by a strength and determination that made them equally important to the war effort. I am not suggesting that this would be a show in which all female characters would pass the Bechdel test – of course their main concern is that of their husbands, fathers, sons, etc who are at war. However, in 2019, I would have liked to have seen a bit more acknowledgement for the valuable contribution made by so many women to the WWI that has been too often overlooked. I was disappointed, as a woman, to see another WWI story that has once again seemingly forgotten or ignored significance of the female contribution.

The choreography is a major let down for this production. Whether it was a case of just too many people on stage for the choreographer to handle or whether no dance call was demanded, I was unclear, but it was disappointing not to see some really strong dance numbers accompanying some really GOOD songs! If the team opts to continue performances of Three Weeks in Spring in Sydney or beyond, my greatest advice would be to first and foremost fix this as the choreography was distractingly bad and the music deserved better treatment than that.

There are some tonal concerns – there are some very upbeat, seemingly happy songs, that backtrack battles and deaths and there are a number of different styles of music thrown into the one musical. I do believe that some refinement would be beneficial, however, I maintain that the songs are the stars of this show.

All in all, I feel for the production team who could have harbored better responses than the show is getting simply by choosing a venue more fitting to the current standard of the show. If you go to the State Theatre, you need to have the budget and the talent to back it up – not a single Ensemble can be, as they were, off key, and what we see on stage has to be of the highest standard. Instead, 2D guns and an albeit very cute but man-handled puppet as the donkey filled the stage. Unfortunately too, I doubt the historical accuracy of the entire show and feel that for a show that the team is billing as “Australia’s Musical” this is important to be very strict about.

I hope that the quality of the music carries them to a future with this musical and that, when the necessary amendments are made, they return to the stage with every single member of the Company feeling proud of the show they are putting on.

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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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