The Old Time Music Hall 2001. Canberra Repertory at The Playhouse, June 14-23, 2001.
Ritual theatre, as this has surely become after 27 seasons, has a role to play which I am sure some sociologist from ANU could tease out for us. Something about preserving continuity in the face of constant change, maintaining the power of the mythic, bonding particular social groupings. But since some would say this analysis is not my task here, I'll leave theory to others, except to say that this year's show is much less Howard-esque (I'm nodding towards Ian Warden) than the last one I saw 5 years ago.
The difference is partly in a more sophisticated production - better choice of numbers and acts, excellent choreography (simple in style but just right for each situation), equally good costumes and backdrops, all directed with clarity by Cathie Clelland. The quality that really lifts the show, however, is the satirical humour - not present in every item (Pennies From Heaven was too gawky for me), but brilliant in numbers like the two emus and a sort of lizard tap-dancing to an almost monotone regular-rhythm primary school version of My Country by Dorothea Mackellar.
It is nice, too, to see Federation put in its place - Canberra - by working out of the old song "Come, Josephine, in my flying machine ... Oh, let's spoon in a hot air balloon" into the new song written by Musical Maestro Dr Andrew Kay called Fed-air-ation: "When people say, What's good about Canberra? we say, hot air!"
Original English Music Hall was so popular for so long because comedians and singers caught the changing moods of the ordinary people of that nation, and it is interesting to see how in this show it is the mostly quite absurd numbers that make fun of Australian attitudes which move the audience to cheers.
Unfair as it is to select individuals from an all-round excellent cast, I'm going to give guernseys to Lesley Smith and Julie McElhone as the best actors this year. And the best icon is clearly Rosemary Hyde, unable to direct this time, whose image revealed at the end raises the roof. Ritual theatre, indeed, and nicely done.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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