“Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” written by Kurt Vonnegut, directed by Cate Clelland, Canberra REP at Theatre, until August 4. Reviewed BY LEN POWER
Amongst the most successful is “The Norman Conquests” from 1973, a trilogy of plays about a man called Norman who causes havoc during a family weekend get together. The plays depict the same six characters over the same weekend in a different part of a house. Each play is self-contained and can be played in any order. Tempo Theatre has chosen “Table Manners”, which takes place in the dining room.
Husband and wife, Sarah and Reg, arrive at the family home to give Reg’s sister, Annie, a chance to get away for a weekend from caring for their ailing mother. When Annie admits she’s actually going away with Norman, the husband of her other sister, Ruth, all hell breaks loose.
Ayckbourn’s plays focus and comment on the lifestyles of suburban, British, middle-class characters. For the plays to work successfully, his characters must have a reality that audiences recognise and can empathise with.
Unfortunately, the performances of most of director Michael Weston’s cast lack believability. There’s too much “acting” going on, resulting in a stilted production that should have been much funnier than it is. Laughs were often lost by the wrong emphasis in the actor’s delivery or timing.
The more authentic these people are, the funnier the play becomes. It’s all about character and understanding what is motivating that person at every moment. Only Rina Onorato achieves this in a good performance as Ruth. She’s a recognisably real character and that’s what makes her very funny.
The set designed by the director and Jon Elphick is substantial and works very well. Having the 1961 popular song “Norman”, sung by Sue Thompson, as the theme music to open and close the show was an inspired choice.
Although Tempo’s production isn’t perfect, Alan Ayckbourn’s play is still a delight and there are plenty of laughs to be had.