Friday, 6 February 2015

Mother and Son, Canberra Theatre

The TV show turned into theatre has a shortish and not entirely honourable tradition. The multiple dinner theatre versions of Fawlty Towers have been going around for years, the late Jasan Savage repeatedly gave it a go at the University of Canberra with stage versions of "Vicar Of Dibley", "Are You Being Served", "Allo Allo" and "Absolutely Fabulous" and, more recently, "Yes Prime Minister" made an attempt at revival (bought undone by a dodgy script). Now it's an Australian sitcom classic trying the swapover? How does it go?

Well... okay. Ish. With Ruth Cracknell inconveniently passed away, recasting is going to happen, and comparisons are going to be, unfair or not, inevitable.  Original series writer Geoffrey Atherden updates the characters into a modern era to give Maggie a whole new set of confusions with cordless phones, multiple remote controls and skyping grandchildren, but still, this is the same characters in roughly the same situations. Noeline Brown manages to fare pretty well (she also has some material that seems shaped to suit her - in particular, she has some snazzy little dance moves near the end that I can't imagine Cracknell pulling off), while Darren Gilshenan has to throttle back his natural comic charm to play the relatively straight role of Arthur (and so tends to feel a bit wishy-washy). Rob Carlton effortlessly steals scenes whenever he shows up as Robert, similarly Nicky Wendt's ubertrendy Liz (who I kinda wish had more to do - she's offstage an awful lot!) Rachael Beck is a friendly fun presence despite, again, being underserved in the writing (of course, the show isn't for her, but she's luxury casting and a bit more actual material wouldn't go astray), similarly Robyn Arthur has a fine, albiet short, cameo as a gossipy companion to Maggie.

The script and direction is reasonably pitched towards the sitcom level, with longish breaks between the scenes - this doesn't flow as fast as it feels like it should. The skype-call segments are nice sketches to fill some of the gaps but they rarely relate to anything in the rest of the show (also, clearly Noeline Brown is using her own hairdo in them, not the one she's using to play Maggie, which weakens them a tad). Also I kinda feel the act-one break falls on a plot development that is not exactly suspenseful and kinda feels a tad cheap (no, it's quite clear they're not really going to go where they indicate they are, and it feels like an cheap fake-out to pretend you are).

This is a nice enough evening in the theatre - some good comedy performers with material that is good rather than great. I can't wildly object to it and I will admit to laughing a few times, but it's unlikely this is going to stick in the all-time memory bank. I can't honestly say it's worth $100 a ticket (which is what the Canberra Theatre is charging) but it's worth the roughly two hours of watching.

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