Writers Margery and Michael Forde together with director Sean Mee have given contemporary Queenslanders a valuable and moving insight into their past and themselves in this mixture of story and song. The Fordes spent hours transcribing anecdotes and reflections from people in western Queensland (specifically, Roma, Mitchell, Quilpie, Thargomindah, Charleville, Cunnamulla and St George) to provide the basis of this reenactment of pioneer days’ tent-based vaudeville.
An energetic, multi-talented cast re-tell the authentic bush stories while conjuring up something of the spirit of the old tent shows and of country life. The tales flow seamlessly, with smooth transitions from story to song, sad and wistful tales broken up by comic relief.
In all, the effect is one of understatement. Here we find the genuine voice of outback and bush people telling stories of things that have amused or fascinated them. There are happy stories, funny ones and some of great pathos. We enjoy the fun of a rodeo and a young woman’s determination to compete and win on men’s terms. We share a family and community’s grief over the loss of a son in a light plane crash. We witness the gaucheness of young men and women eyeing each other off at a B&S dance. We learn something of Aboriginal dispossession and the various attempts of individuals to make a new life. We share campfire chats (splendid effects here) and stories which may have grown in the telling about such things as exploding dunnies and accidentally hijacked bush planes. Above all we learn something of the people’s affection for the land and their sense of wonder at the transforming effect of nature.
No member of the cast could be faulted. They’re competent rather than star-quality singers, but their voices are just right for the setting. They act and carry-on well, in a show which is very physical. Karen Crone as MC gets the whole show off to a folksy and fun start (in the foyer), while Nathan Kotzur cracks a good whip. Kyas Sherriff makes an impressive debut, while versatile Bryan Probets and fight expert Scott Witt give us lots of laughs. Musicians Gary Nunn and Ross Smith unobtrusively keep the rhythms alive with a song list that ranges far and wide.
Way Out West comes to Brisbane having done the rounds of country towns with big tent presentations of the show. The “in-the-round” La Boite has a better shape than most theatres to reproduce the tent environment, yet I found myself hankering for a real tent-based show, complete with the smell of sawdust and dung. The well equipped theatre seemed a little too “proper” a place for this effort. Perhaps it would have been better staged in a big tent over the road in Lang Park, before the bulldozers move in.