Friday, May 20, 2011

Theatre: Anytown

By Hellie Turner
Directed by Janet Pettigrew
Featuring Kingsley Judd, Whitney Richards, Gaynor O’Hare, Matt Penny, Craig Williams and Cathy Lally
Blue Room Theatre
May 10 – 28, 2011

Anytown sits out on the flat and seethes. The little town of a blow-in or two and 900-odd people named Willis bury their dead and dig up their dirt, air their grievances and their dirty linen, and drink from bottomless cups of tea. There’s one road in and one road out of Anytown, and precious few people take either.
Whitney Richards and Craig Williams
In the house of the town cop Charlie and his wife Bella Willis (Matt Penny and Gaynor O’Hare), their delicious sixteen-year-old Dixie (Whitney Richards) hatches her plots. Dixie is a born sexual manipulator; she’s inherited her mother’s carnal allure, but none of her sweetness or resignation. She’s entirely unscrupulous, and entirely indiscriminate, tormenting the mute town boy Paulie (one of several roles played by by Craig Williams) and their scabrous Scottish lodger Angus (Kingsley Judd).
Angus, though, shares a secret with Bella who, in turn, is keeping something from both him and her husband. It’s that kind of town
When a dark stranger (Williams again) appears, bringing with him something mysterious in a hatbox, he represents the chance of escape for Dixie. She goes to work on him, but, for the first time in her life, it just might be her that’s being done over.
There’s lot to like about Anytown, and much to admire about Hellie Turner’s craft. Above all, she can really write. At her poetic best she makes Anytown look, sound and smell like Llareggub. If the dialogue sometimes sits a little uncomfortably with the taciturnity we associate with life in the bush, that’s a small incongruity and easy for us to overcome.
She can also sustain a metaphor, in this case the deadening effect of life in the slow lane, represented by the townspeople’s addiction to a narcotic blend of tea created from a local flower by the celebrated Felicity Willis, now immortalised by the enormous statue (the indomitable Cathy Lally) that dominates the town.
Turner occasionally loses her sure touch. Revealing the purpose behind the stranger's arrival unnecessarily takes way some of his mystery and impact, and the play ultimately hurries to a too-quick, too-easy denouement that gives you a feeling Turner was worried about overstaying her welcome.
Despite this, director Janet Pettigrew and her cast know they’ve got strong material to work with, and they land it cleanly and effectively. Pettegrew skilfully works through the intricacies of placing characters in a play where time and situations slip backwards and forwards without warning.
Anytown is very much Dixie’s play, and the talented Richards makes her a magnetic demon of coquettish ambition. Richards was quite different, but just as terrific, as the sweet, strong Winnie in last year’s House of Fun at the Blue Room, and she’s bound for great things.
O’Hare is just as good. She carries off Bella’s balancing act of matronly rectitude and physical neediness with real authenticity. One of the production’s highlights is how convincing O’Hare and Richards are as parent and child – a huge win in a play where daughters becoming their mothers is a central theme.
Judd plays Angus with a priapic energy, like a Malcolm Tucker badly on the skids, and Williams brings a Sam Shepherd-like quality to the stranger and demonstrates his versatility and stagecraft across all the characters he plays. I’m not sure that Penny has set his character up as well. If Charlie is the town’s policeman, he’d need to smarten up considerably on duty, and his betrayal and revenge would carry more weight if he had more pride to lose.
One of the pleasures of Blue Room shows is knowing that even experienced and well-regarded writers like Turner can and will take their work away for fine tuning. Anytown is a winner as is, and will be well worth any effort Turner makes to refine and grow it further . 

You can link here for Robin Pascoe's review of Anytown in The West Australian. 

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