‘The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race’ is very funny, dry comedy, written by NSW broadcaster Melanie Tait, who was John Law’s producer for a time. Melanie is happy tackling any topic from international spies, to restoring Aboriginal place names.
As a playwright her first play ‘The Vegemite Tales’ was written when she was 20. it played for seven years in London, two of which were in the West End.
Written only three years ago, this one-act, 90-minute production by The Melville Theatre Company has curtain-up in the Melville Theatre, on the corner of Canning Highway and Stock Road, Melville at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday, and evenings until Saturday 26th February.
The Scene: Appleton, a typical Aussie outback town, struggling for survival.
The Set: On the audience left of stage apron is a ladies’ hairdresser with chair and bottle trolley. On the right apron is Doctor Anderson’s surgery, complete with desk and chairs, eye test chart and sphygmomanometer.
At the rear of the stage – left – is a grandstand with tiered seating. A banner stating the organisers and year, hangs from the roof. To the right is a hotel bar and restaurant, with jarrah table, chairs, and racks of alcoholic drink bottles.
Set design: was well thought-out by Michelle Ezzy and Sarah Boyle. The set artwork and dressing was by Sarah Boyle and Caitlyn Boyle.
Set construction: The set had a genuine lived-in feel, thanks to the hard work of the MTC volunteers.
Lighting design and operation: Krista Clark, with careful choice of coloured lighting, picked out the area of the stage being used for each scene. This gave minimal need for set changes and kept the pace up.
Sound design: Mainly voiceovers, show commentators and radio show presenters. Smoothly recorded and presented by Alan Gill.
Sound operation: Michelle Ezzy worked well with the lighting operator. Good crisp recordings.
Stage manager: Genevieve Wilson’s work was slick and quick, thanks to her stage crew Jessica Huysing and Elizabeth Elliott.
Poster and programme cover – smart eye-catching art by Tahlia Elliott. Fine publicity photographs by Alan Gill.
Front of house photos and programme: Vanessa Jensen.
The lights dart around the stage as various radio messages announce the upcoming, annual potato sack carrying race. The lights settle on Nikki Armstrong (Kayti Murphy) as she adds colour highlights to Penny Anderson’s hair (Kate O’Sullivan). Nikki and Penny were school friends. Although Nikki has hardly been to the next town, she owns a successful hair business, whereas Penny has just returned to the town after several years at Uni, graduating as a doctor. Penny returns to her practice, and Rania Hamid (Neha Chhapia) takes the chair.
The town is very accepting of Rania’s Syrian heritage but are not too sure about Penny’s change of lifestyle.
Penny’s aunt Barb (Valerie Henry) points out that the prize money for the men carrying the potato sacks is still vastly more than that for the girls. Barb’s outspoken, foulmouthed, and intolerant friend, Bev Armstrong (Lis Hoffmann) can see no reason for women getting more, besides everyone has been happy for years.
Then a race thirty years earlier is recalled – could this be the answer?
Radio programme presenters and ‘phone-in callers, Jess Lally, Lynne Devenish, Paul Treasure, Christine Offringa., Joanna Tyler, Kristin Twynam-Perkins, Andre Victor, Sam Barnett, Mark Elliott, Elizabeth Elliott, Magda Lisek, Patrick Downes, Michelle Ezzy and Alan Gill.
Costumes supervised by Michelle Sharp and mainly supplied by the cast.
This extremely funny play was written with clever dialogue, that matched each character perfectly. All director Michelle Ezzy had to do initially, was to choose a cast that was capable of handling such a subtle, emotion-packed script. Not as easy as it sounds. So along with assistant director Elizabeth Elliott, Michelle chose this ideal, highly experienced team.
Michelle has managed to stop the whole script becoming hammy, by keeping the pace up and the dialogue delivery subdued. The mood was perfect and the delivery by every cast member natural.
At times, the attitude of some villagers left the audience gasping at the inflexible assertiveness of the narrow-minded locals in this day and age.
A very funny play, presented by a fabulous cast and supporting team. Do actors lose their performing skill with age? Absolutely not, like a fine wine they just improve – see Lis and Val at their very best. Highly recommended.