By Elise Greig
We should be grateful to the Centenary Players and Eric Scott in particular for securing the opportunity to produce Elise Greig’s 2005 comedy Crèche and Burn for amateur performance, thus ensuring a wider audience for this locally written play. La Boite Theatre, which premiered the play, has always championed the work of new Australian playwrights and it is good to see an enterprising amateur group also showcasing local talent. In November the group will continue in this vein by mounting the first production of Sister Kenny, a play by Brisbane writer, actor and director Paul Sherman.
Crèche and Burn is great fun; it follows the trials of a young woman showing up on the first day of her job in a childcare centre only to find that the rest of the staff have fallen sick and she must soldier on alone. The children present few problems, but the parents are another matter, displaying all the self-centredness of tyrannical three-year-olds. The absolute low point of Miss Sarah’s day comes when a divorced father, whom she has tried to help become more assertive, barricades the centre and refuses to let his appalling ex-wife take possession of their child. The police become involved and Sarah is forced to act as negotiator in a situation that can only end in unhappiness for the well-intentioned father. By the end of the day calm is restored, the children (resilient as always) have thrived on the excitement, and Sarah can leave, more than ever aware of the complexity of a teacher’s role in society.
Elise Greig’s play is full of very funny characters and situations which every parent and teacher in the audience can immediately recognise and relate to. The children make brief appearances (represented here by delightful, bizarrely coloured, life-size dolls) but it is the parents and Sarah’s two unconventional helpers who dominate the action of the play.
The over-protective mother, the foul-mouthed bikie mum, the breast-feeding earth-mother, the business-woman terrified of babies, the opinionated grandma, the ex-wife from hell and the well-meaning but ineffectual father all make an appearance, each demanding something different from the teacher and facility to which they entrust their child. The rough-as-bags volunteer helper and the flakey girl Social Services have provided add to the microcosm that the play presents.
Lizzie Ballinger as Sarah comes across as a capable and credible teacher who is only occasionally overwhelmed by the responsibility thrust upon her on her first day at work. It is easy to see why she is at pains to help the uncertain Robert, played sympathetically here by Glenn Borland. Brooke Dziuma drifts delightfully through the play as the spaced-out and totally clueless Kym who is left onstage at the end of the play, reflecting what a warm and loving place the crèche provides. The other characters are all doubled and the four actors have a ball, each given the opportunity to portray two totally contrasting characters. Kyle Lobo as the tough bikie babe is unrecognisable as the pathetically nervous mother who is sure her child will stop breathing, as is Lucy Moxon doubling hilariously as the hippie Damask Rose and the blokey Di. Joanna Oliver’s obnoxious grandma is contrasted wonderfully with her well-observed police sergeant while Annah Lane’s beautiful but monstrous bride is far removed from her coolly elegant young executive.
Although the characters may appear to be stereotypes, they each reflect some of the dilemmas facing young parents trying to juggle family life and work commitments and therefore in need of reliable child care. Beneath the comedy some very serious social issues are raised in the play and it is the director’s role to find the right balance, ensuring that neither element overwhelms the other. In this regard I would have liked to see the director tone down some of the over-playing for laughs, trusting the audience to pick up on the humour and allowing the more sombre notes to emerge.
However, this production is a good ensemble piece of theatre in which all the elements contribute to the total effect. The set is terrific, the props and costumes just right, the ‘children’ a triumph and the pace brisk. Brisbane audiences are lucky to have had the opportunity to have another look at this play, which I am sure will quickly become a popular part of the Australian repertoire. Well done all round!
Directed by Eric Scott
Playing until 6 October 2007: Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 6:30pm
Running time: 2 hrs including 20 min interval