Review / Clelland’s humorous take on ‘Australia Day’

Theatre / “Australia Day”, Canberra Repertory, until 2 December. Reviewed by JOHN LOMBARD.  

JONATHON Biggins’ play “Australia Day” focuses on the scuffles of the Coriole Shire Australia Day Organising Committee as it tries to simultaneously navigate both the fraught politics of the day and the complex logistics of a sausage sizzle.
The dingy scout hall set (designed by director Cate Clelland) perfectly captures the flavour of local politics, creating a contrast between the lofty issues the committee debates and their humble resources and capabilities.
Pat Gallagher is perfectly cast as the mayor, a practical and flexible Liberal on the cusp of making a hop into federal politics. His pragmatism makes him the arbiter between the extremists of the group, the openly racist Wally (Neil McLeod) and condescending leftie Helen (Sarah Hull).
Clelland brings out the character in each member of the committee, and while Gallagher gives the most accomplished performance, everyone was convincing as a representative of a type.
Biggins writes excellent dialogue and the play has a great concept, but the plotting is weak: this is not a farce where problems mount, but gag-driven sketch comedy that delves into issues that were sometimes more topical at the play’s 2012 debut.
The play also mounts an enthusiastic defence of casual racism, with the shrill and unlikable Helen a poor balance to Wally’s fiery gravitas. While the play does try to bring left and right together, it is in mutual political sloth rather than genuine compromise.
“Australia Day” has some shonky politics, but the gags and character comedy together make for a fun night of light entertainment.

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