Shoppers, Doggies, Dancers and Cruise Missile from Deckchairs by Jean McConnell. HIT Productions at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, October 18 and 19, 2005.
Sitting relaxed at Tuggeranong By The Sea, watching the deckchairs for entertainment was about as exciting as you might expect. Because of the neat directing by Gary Down and fine performances from stalwart sisters Joan Sydney and Maggie King, maybe a bit more than you would have bargained for.
Jean McConnell is an English writer for television, radio and stage. The format for the 12 20 minute playlets in Deckchairs is a variation of a long tradition of English "characters" just talking, more or less to each other. In this case they are sitting in deckchairs, on a promenade or, in Cruise Missile, on a cruise ship. Unlike Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, which are ascerbic revelations of the sad, even tragic, inner lives of English suburbanites, previously presented by HIT Productions at TCA, McConnell's women are more comic in tone.
The result is an entertaining evening which the Canberra audience thoroughly enjoyed, yet I found the themes, like the upper and lower class dog owners who end up growling at each other, a bit too predictable. When I think back to the masters of this form, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (in, say, the 1960s Dagenham Dialogues in which 'Pete', as a confident but ill-informed bore, held forth to 'Dud', a scruffy, even less informed Herbert), I realise that Jean McConnell, writing Deckchairs in the decade since 1995, misses the absurdity of Pete and Dud which her characters need to lift them beyond quite funny but ultimately rather shallow images of English life. Tuggeranong certainly seemed rather far-flung from her world, yet could seem closer to Dagenham.
On the other hand, O'Connell has a good ear for the language of her characters, and the Australian sisters were very skilled not only in accents and comic timing, but especially in the right phrasing and intonation for each class of character. The conniving "shoppers" were perfectly matched in speech, the dog owners' manners and language matched their very funny hand-puppet dogs (wild bitzer and snooty pug), and especially interesting were the 'A' Deck single-cabin wealthy-but-genuine woman and the contrasting below-decks shared-cabin know-it-all "cruise missile" who got her come-uppance to great applause to end the evening's show.
So, in the English tradition, a bit of a curate's egg.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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