By Jack Hibberd
Roast chook, baked potatoes, peas ‘n gravy, pumpkin soup and good old-fashioned service are part of the ticket for the “wedding of the year”, otherwise known as Dimboola, currently being celebrated in Chelmer in Brisbane’s western suburbs. And dessert isn’t bad either.
Rod Felsch’s 2005 version of Jack Hibberd’s well-known 1960s Australian play is a nice treat, in most respects. Apart from the food, the atmosphere is warm and beckons of nostalgia and this is why there are smiles on the guests’ faces at the wedding/play.
The Saturday night audience were kind enough to dress for the part and joined Maureen (or “Reeeeen”), Morrie, April and Darkie as well as Florence, Knocka and Horrie in the wedding celebrations. The names say it all.
Dimboola is an interactive, strictly Aussie play which is written with the intention of having the audience participate as the invited guests. The audience stands, sits, and applauds during the toasts to the bride, but best of all, gets to eat a three-course dinner!
The real town of Dimboola is set on the Wimmera River in Victoria and the name means “land of figs”. The play is set in the late 1960s with the audience supposedly having some acquaintance with both families.
It is a celebration of the wedding of Morrie McAdam, a Protestant, to Reen Delaney, a Roman Catholic. The family members try, unsuccessfully, to preserve a level of social decorum throughout the reception but after a few drinks, well, in vino veritas as they say.
As time progresses, it turns into one of “those” weddings, the ones with too many pregnant pauses and embarrassing speeches. The bride’s parents despise the groom’s parents, you’re forced to sit with people with whom you have little in common and feel compelled to make conversation and eat at the same time, and everyone gets, well, there’s no other way to put it, smashed.
Fortunately, there’s a four-piece band who are quite sober and thankfully fill the void left by the pregnant pauses and welcome audience participation. The audience are given song sheets and invited to sing along to Danny Boy, Red River Valley and South of the Border. Fortunately, Mutton (Wayne Symes) also leads with a few contemporary tunes and the audience can get down with a little rock’n’roll.
The set is effective with a restaurant-style design instead of rows of chairs for the audience. The picture of the Queen and the old-fashioned streamers and silver disco ball certainly speak of a vanished past, as does the awkwardly made placard “Congratulations Reen and Morrie!”.
It might be the mikes, or the whirring of the overhead fans, but occasionally the dialogue at the wedding table was difficult to hear or perhaps it was muted by the distance from the audience, as the wedding table is close to the rear of the stage. This is particularly the case with mother of the bride April (Samantha Tierney) and Florrie (Honey Butz), whose biting sarcasm becomes a bit lost. They might have had to scream their lines to be heard above the dinner-time clutter which of course they wouldn’t have experienced during rehearsals.
The trick for the performers is to stay in character while the audience are paying more attention to their plates of food and filling their glasses than watching the bridal party. The bride Reen, Nadine Phillips and ‘Mutton’ (Wayne Symes), should be given the prize for this, as some others definitely took the opportunity to have a little time out.
Out of a large cast of 16, the best performances were from Mutton and Bayonet (Rod Felsch, doubling as director), who play uninvited local wits and whose characters are marked by a complete absence of sobriety. Their interruptions to the wedding ceremony are well-timed and Wayne Symes was able to extend his witty character to include minor roles as singer, entertainer and stand-up comic.
The program says Horrie (David Bell) “is a quintessential Bazza Mackenzie” and I would have to agree, although at times he struggles to maintain the unyielding momentum of his role. Astrid (Amy Coutts) really held her own with her tap performance and strongly maintained her character to the very end.
This is allegedly Australia’s most-performed play, seen by more Australians than any other musical, comedy or play, and under direction from Rod Felsch the Centenary Theatre Group performance was good fun, with the obvious unique format being much appreciated as demonstrated by the empty plates and plentiful applause. It was really pleasant to travel back in time for an evening and enjoy a play which was definitely a “no worries” evening full of fun and laughter.
Directed by Rod Felsch
Playing until 3 December (7.30 for 8pm, Friday & Saturday and 5.30 for 6pm Sundays)
Duration: 120 minutes, no interval