Hating Alison Ashley by Richard Tulloch.Theatre South at the Llewellyn Hall, Canberra School of Music. Adapted and directed by Richard Tulloch. Professional. 9.45 am and 12.30 pm May 6 - May 7.
The teacher poked the boy sitting nearby and said "Did you like that?" "Yes," said the boy who had been giggling - and been silent - at all the right dramatic places since the play began. "Well, clap then!" said the teacher, realising that the poor lad had probably spent his life watching television and didn't realise that these were real people on the stage who needed to hear his appreciation.
Theatre South deserves applause for this production. The characterisation is definite and detailed, the set design works beautifully and the costuming is so good that I suspect that many youngsters in the audience may not have realised that these were adult actors. Body language and voices were finely tuned to complete the illusion. At first I thought the choice of the Llewellyn Hall, large as it is, would distance the audience too much; but as it turned out it helped make the "children" on stage seem the right size.
Richard Tulloch has long been recognised as one of the best theatre-in-education writers in the country, and Hating Alison Ashley is one of the favourites for the late primary - early high school age group. The play deserves its reputation: it raises all the issues of a junior level Heartbreak High but deals with them apparently whimsically, while actually showing how acceptance of everyone's differences makes simple good sense. No-one hates Alison Ashley, nor Erika Yurken who envies her, nor the class clown, nor even the teacher with the withering stare, by the end of the play. We have learned that the "best" of well-behaved families have divorces and riotous undisciplined homes can contain genuine love. All is presented without sentimentality and for the young audience the play fulfills the proper role of good drama: to be an honest and entertaining reflection of experience. Highly recommended.
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