It’s a Dad Thing

Gardens Theatre (Tim Lawson Productions)


Created and written by Liam Amor, Michael Fry, Matthew Green, Colin James, David Lander, Geoff Paine

QUT Gardens Theatre

Professional production

It’s a Dad Thing is the opening show in a new venture by QUT Gardens Theatre to bring interstate professional theatre to Brisbane on an annual subscription basis. Five short-run shows are scheduled for 2006, with Hannie Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento up next in May to be followed by two WA touring productions and a NSW production of a one-man show by Henri Szeps.

Under each announcement in the subscription brochure are the magic words, “The Australian Government is proud to be associated with this tour through the national performing arts touring program, Playing Australia, which gives Australians across the country the opportunity to see some of our best performing arts.” What’s happening here? Has our government suddenly realised that unemployed actors tend to become politically active given half a chance? Pay for them to go out on the road in the time-honoured players’ way, and your problem’s solved? Should we be sceptical about the term Playing Australia ?

Given the fact that two of the shows in this series are about kids and families, should we be wondering about some hidden agenda? My guess is that there’s someone down in Canberra who is actually on the side of the angels, beavering away in the Australia Council for the Arts, supporting the arts in a pretty hands-on way with real money without necessarily running every choice by the Minister. Just like they’d have us believe the AWB works, really.

The sooner Brisbane theatregoers become aware of this QUT venture, the better, because not only is it great to have more choice in professional theatre in town (and incidentally in regional areas as well), but it’s also a delight to see what they have done with the old Con Theatre. It always had a nice intimate feel about it with good sightlines and easy access, and the fairly recent makeover has given it a chic look with a greatly enlarged foyer for pre-show and interval drinks. Pity it was so sparsely filled on opening night, but increased advertising should fix that for the rest of the season. You can, by the way, also ask for free parking when you book, which is not to be sneezed at.

And so to the show. Its history is quite interesting: a group of suburban men in Melbourne wanting to make a show about men and parenthood meet every Saturday and finally test the show in South Yarra and then play it at a couple of other Melbourne venues. The present production has a completely new cast, and it’s been doing well on its regional tour so far. It’s directed by one of the original cast and produced by Tim Lawson who is the person responsible for all those productions of Topol’s Fiddler on the Roof that periodically show up in Australian theatres. The five actors are all excellent and very experienced, but the show is very much still a series of stand-ups, despite the attempt to give it the structure of a working bee at the local kids’ playground. The working bee, by the way, gives the opportunity for some nice business with power tools (doubling as an ultrasound tool), and provides some colourful pieces of the set to leap around on.

The ending when the playground is finished is stunning with a boat and a lighthouse complete with seagulls and the George-Clooney lookalike (Tony Farrell) giving a very acceptable rendition of Nessun dorma with his vincero rivalling Big Lucy’s. His reply, “Piss off,” to his mates was even better.

There are some very funny bits of role-playing, like the Nazi midwife, the new mum who keeps putting off the sex scene, and the super dad, but mostly it’s the men retelling their stories of the marriage, the pregnancy and parenthood. It’s all a bit blokey and predictable, with the same tired old routines like the turkey baster insemination (here by one member of a gay couple), cowering up the north end during the birth, burying the placenta, Phenergan as a performance-enhancing drug, and how to cope with the vagaries of the postnatal woman. In the role-playing the women are delineated by one of those dreadful flowered headbands which young mothers insist on putting on hairless new daughters just so people won’t goo and say “what a handsome little fellow he is.” There are some moving and clever moments though, particularly the group singing of Beautiful Child.

It could have been mawkish and it did go on a bit too long, but the singing was great. A very funny and clever sequence was the ’63 Ford Falcon with four of the actors dressed in Hawaiian shirts as the new dad’s old mates, representing different parts of the car, the body, the engine, the dashboard and the upholstery, while he has his last spin before he trades it in for a Commodore to accommodate the new twins.

During the interval the cast interacted with the audience and then grooved into a pretty chaotic dance. Perhaps a less predictable second half might have helped to maintain the interest. It was more of the same though, more stand-up with some attempt at seriousness such as “Do what you can, love your kids and hope it all works out” or updated music hall patter on the playground boat, “Where’s your buccaneer? On my bucking head.”

It’s a Dad Thing doesn’t set out to be a male Vagina Monologues. It doesn’t have the emotion and complexity for one thing. But it’s funnier than Grumpy Old Men, and not quite so misogynistic.

Directed by Geoff Paine

Played 3 performances only, from Wednesday 5 April to Friday 7 April at 8pm

Duration : (including interval) 2 hours

— Barbara Garlick
(Performance seen: Tue 4th April 2006)