By Linda Hassall
The subtitle of Post Office Rose is “love, loyalty and patsy cline” which is as far from the truth as you could imagine, unless, of course, your ideas of love and loyalty particularly are merely based on Oprah-reality. The play is part of La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre Presents initiative this year, aimed at helping smaller companies by offering them a venue in return for a weekly fee paid out of the box office profits. It’s a great project, a professional theatre space with the expertise and the promise of all the audience goodwill that goes with it. I didn’t see the first production of Post Office Rose four years ago at Metro Arts, but in a recent article in the Courier-Mail, Helen Cassidy, one of the original cast members, says that only minor changes were made. I wonder how the transition from proscenium to the La Boite space might have affected the current production, in which Cassidy as Patsy Cline (and occasionally other characters) moves around the stage in her stiff petticoat and rhinestone cowgirl hat, encircling the warring “friends” and representing more of a malevolent than a benign presence — perhaps it was her Ambush perfume, which the girls copied to hide the smell of pigs and blood. This is Outback Gothic, folks, and perhaps I’m being overly influenced by that brooding atmosphere. It’s all about the past and what went wrong there, no glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, only a lazy ceiling fan casting shadows.
The set is as dour and grim as the past and present of the characters: a central square filled with what looked like sawdust that the old butchers’ shops had on their floors to soak up the blood (more of that later) or the pub floors of a previous generation when the 6 o-clock swill still dictated the timetables of people’s lives. On the fourth wall were a corrugated iron bar and a juke box against the wall. Two tables with chairs, a wooden stage and a bowl of limp chips, a guitar hanging on the wall which holds the dread Secret and a Tupperware container with Eddie’s mothers ashes and some paper roses in it, and that’s about it. Not much of a future for Eddie (Caroline Dunphy) who now owns the Post Office Hotel and is the keeper of the Secret. Mind you, it’s not much of a world to have lived in all your life with the pigs squealing outside, the stench of the abattoir, and the customers with permanent blood under their fingernails. It’s no wonder that the three friends try to escape into the world of Patsy Cline as 18-year-olds by forming a girl band, the Paper Roses, to play in the pub and earn some money to get out of it all. The other solution might be to run away with the handsome stranger with the guitar, but only one between three of them? Not enough handsome strangers to go round.
So the past and the present intersect and overlap when Charlie (Jessica Veurman-Betts) comes back after 15 years for a reunion of the band. All long legs, silver strap shoes and Dukes of Hazzard brief denim shorts, nerves and a bag full of pills, and, as we learn later, a dysfunctional childhood of, dare I say, Gothic proportions. Eddie is comparatively gentle with her compared to Louie (Kathryn Lister) who has been coming back each year and arrives late, with venom on her tongue, but then she’s the catalyst for the build-up to the revelation of the Secret. Lines like “we couldn’t shave our legs till we got our rags” come thick and fast. Nostalgia comes to life as the spot lights opposite sides of the set and various combinations move back to their 18-year-old selves, softer perhaps, but always on the edge of violent confrontations.
The singing of the Patsy Cline standards is good both by Helen Cassidy and by the girls who join in with her, and frequently the songs make an ironic comment on the action. In fact it’s a very well staged and acted piece by them all: Louie’s brittle domineering beauty, Eddie’s tough-guy survivor pose, and fragile Charlie who can shout with the best of them when she is revved up enough to want to set the past right. But it’s an ugly play, and it’s not all about love and loyalty, just about surviving. I was intermittently reminded of a fine old movie called Doing Time for Patsy Cline, and thought that inspiration is a funny thing. It can take you to the heights or the depths. In terms of this play, I guess Patsy Cline has a lot to answer for.
Directed by Shaun Charles
Playing: 20-29 September 2007. Previews 18, 19 Sept. Mon-Wed 6.30pm, Thurs-Sat 8pm, matinee Sat 29 Sept 2pm.
Duration: 1hr 30mins, no interval.