Dinkum Assorted is a tribute to the Australian women who took over men’s jobs in factories and other workplaces during World War II. Linda Aronson’s play captures the mood of the times, introducing popular plus original songs to an understated set of story-lines which bring out tensions and resolutions among the women involved.
Written in 1988, the script seems a little dated, especially after a decade’s developments in theatre, and it perhaps reflects feminist preoccupations that have to some extent faded in the intervening years. It needs tightening up as well as the shedding or amalgamating of characters and other dramaturgical work. The action is too episodic for much character development, and the potential to move the audience is not quite realised.
This is a big project for a community theatre group to take on, and the results are mixed. The cast of 15 rather overcrowd the small Arts Theatre stage, especially when working around props. With such a large cast of women who are expected to act, sing and dance, there is an inevitable unevenness in performance. Directing it all must have been a great challenge, and some of the difficulties faced by Lynne Wright and choreographer Rebecca Gibson are apparent. As a result a number of moments of rich comic potential, such as the bucket scene and the dancing with dummies, don’t quite ignite. On the other hand, there are various well-orchestrated moments, such as the tense group anticipation when observing visits of the local priest, signalling a family member missing in action.
Among the positives are good set design, including the corrugated iron wing pieces and an ingenious biscuit-making machine, as well as excellent costume work. The variety of pinafores and pleated or gathered dresses featuring waists, collars and buttons, together with carefully coiffed hair styles with waves, curls and buns beautifully capture the era. One can imagine frantic moments in the dressing rooms during some of the quick changes required. The final change results in the whole cast emerging resplendently in cabaret biscuit-themed attire which would have delighted Dame Edna Everage.
Of the performers, Janice Hancock is a capable Grace, dictatorial leader of the group, with Lyn de Voil robustly undermining her authority, while Wendy Low’s Pearl also makes her mark. Against the backdrop of the larger group moments are various good interactions between players e.g. Elspeth Peake’s difficult Connie and Renate Bowden’s newcomer Joan, and the delightfully mischievous younger women, Carrie Jaques’ Vi and Lisa Hancock’s Rosie.
The acting that most impressed me was that of Alison Telfer-McDonald as Millie she beautifully captures the mixture of vulnerability and optimism of this character. But all the cast contribute in various ways Jo Peirce, Alison Fraser, Fran Vass, Susan Tebbitt, Colleen Crisp, Ildika Koppen and understudy Julie Leaver while Stephanie Swalwell performs well as the pianist, Glad.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the show is the singalong at the beginning, where the cast, who look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of a 1940s Women’s Weekly, mingle with the audience and jolly them along.