Theatre Review: BSTC's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
How long can “the good old days” last? And just how good were they anyway? These are the questions the new Black Swan Theatre production Summer of the Seventeenth Doll raises. The answers it provides are enlightening and stirring.
First written and perfumed in the mid-1950s, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a landmark of Australian theatre history. The work of playwright Ray Lawler, the play is set in the suburb of Carlton, Victoria, as a group of friends (and lovers) gather once again to celebrate the return of Roo and Barney (Kelton Pell and Jacob Allan, respectively) from their work on the sugarcane fields in North Queensland. It’s the seventeenth return celebration, but will it live up to expectations? This new production demonstrates that its themes of class and strained relationships are well and truly applicable today while shedding new light on such a well-known piece.
(Photos by Philip Gostelow)
When you experience a lot of theatre in your life, you do grow accustomed to a certain kind of quality of performance. It can sometimes take a lot to make a really stand-out cast, well, stand-out. The Summer team did just that, with each performer perfectly apt at bringing their characters to startlingly real life. In this kind of ensemble piece, it really is hard to pick standouts, but special mention should go to Amy Mathews as Olive; she has never failed to impress in every production I have seen her in, but this one was on a whole new level. Newcomer Michael Cameron also shone in his brief, but vital role of Johnnie.
Summer is the sort of script which would be easy to butcher. There is plenty of drama and unfurling action, but it takes all the elements of production and strong performances to draw out. Thankfully, everything fell in to place perfectly, from the set and light design to the razor-sharp line delivery. Adam Mitchell’s direction and the creative team as a whole are to be lauded for crafting such a magnificent piece of work.