At first glance at the set, this production has the looming feeling that it may be very stereotypical and very predictable. FHM girls, photographs and drawings cover the wall; Lonely Planet guides are the only books in the house, Fosters beer, a surfboard, mismatched charity shop furniture and a guitar. It’s like Home and Away on a budget.
Though I was pleasantly surprised by The Vegemite Tales despite the embarrassingly Aussie title being strewn over London, dangerously close to the Walkabout pub. This production was a big daggy, silly and hilariously funny ocker romp which any traveler – not just young Aussies in London – will be able to relate to.
Throughout the show I noticed that the audience had quite divided themselves. The raucous convict bogans (aka us Aussies) were sitting at the back howling with laughter and the familiarity of the situation and the London locals were in front and rather more demure about the whole thing. We were laughing at The Vegemite Tales because it reminded us of ourselves, the English were laughing because they think we’re nutters.
It is rare that I see a cast meld so well together. There is no upstaging, no obvious mistakes; it all gelled very well and even the dancing, media and sex incorporations went off with a bang. Yes, sure, there are some stereotypically forced Melbournian accents, some comments on the county bumpkin hippy state of Perth, Sydney-siders obsessing over their own fame and no mention of Adelaide or Canberra…but who ever remembers them anyway? It’s all mixed in with a good dose of dry Australian humour and slapstick and is not meant to be taken seriously.
This isn’t all easy laughs though. There are also very real problems in the mix that many young people face and the ever present dilemma of which country you like the best, missing mums cooking, the fly screen doors, Cheezels, Cherry Ripes and Arnotts BBQ Shapes. How long do you stay in London, dosing with your mates? How long do you look for a job before giving up? How long can you handle minimum wage, queues, the tube, pollution, never-ending rain, ever-changing flat mates, stodgy food and cod with your fish and chips instead of snapper? These are, or have been, real concerns for the audience on the night and many of the plays comments about missing mum, your dog, the “real” beach and choking up after a phone call home pulled the heart string of the audience sitting behind me. I often heard “Aww…I miss my Mum too…”, “I miss the surf…”, “I miss real beer”…from many a homesick Aussie.
While the story of poor or unemployed young Australians sharing a flat in London is not a new story, The Vegemite Tales makes sure it is not boring, with unexpected and hilarious twists, turns and growth of characters. Although this is no Stanislavskian feat by any means, The Vegemite Tales feels real. We all know – whether we are in London or not – what it feels like to go far away from home just to say that you have no idea where you are in life, and no idea where to go next. The beer, sex, low income job and homesickness is all part of the path of life.
Particularly well done is a scene where Sam (the father figure of the house) in his Aussie flag undies meets Portia– a very posh Brit salsa dancer – in her union jack dress and they throw insults off each other about our countries. The question Portia poses at the end of this exchange: “If Australia is so good, what are you all doing here?” really put a lid on the audience laughs.
Yes this is stereotyped, yes it is daggy and yes it is very obvious who the target audience is but it’s a great night out and an opportunity to get homesick, want mums cooking and laugh at yourself. Or be laughed at.
It is not often this reviewer has such a good time at the theatre that she can’t find anything to write during the night. I chose The Vegemite Tales over my notepad. This play is the New Australian Bible. Thongs, not Flip-Flops, Vegemite, not Marmite. Chips, not Crisps, ‘Par-sta’ not Pasta, ‘Yo-gurt’ not “Yoggurt’ and sure; we are your dirty old convicts and we own it!…Australian travelers unite, crack open a beer and say together with the fatherly Sam, clumsy Eddie, virginal Maddie and that snooty Melbournian Jane: “Up yer bum!”. This isn’t a play. It’s a cultural microcosm.
Itchy Feet Theatre presents
The Vegemite Tales
by Melanie Tait
Directed by Bill Buckhurst
Cast Blair Mcdonough, Jonathon Dutton, Jessica Gerger, Andy Leonard, Andrew Robb, Anna Skellern and Josephine Taylor
Venue: The Venue, Leicester Square | 5 Leicester Place, London
Dates: Thursday 26 July – Saturday 27 October 2007
Times: Monday - Saturday at 8.00pm | Saturday Matinees at 3.00pm
Tickets: £25, Matinees £15, Mondays £20, Concessions £19 (bkg fee may apply)
Bookings: 0870 899 3335 or online www.seetickets.com