The name of Ray Lawler has echoed down the corridors of stage halls and drama faculties across the country for nearly 6 decades. The legend of ‘The Doll’ has inspired and haunted every aspiring Australian playwright. And the infamous character of Olive has been the topic of countless dissertations into feminism, freedom and fantasy combined.
The witnessing of ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ is a privilege; one which La Boite Theatre Company have not ignored. Director Sean Mee’s production of this Australian classic captures and reinvents the power of the play. With superb acting, genuine set design, carefully layered emotions and perfectly timed direction, La Boite’s ‘The Doll’ is simply seamless. Not only is this the first time that ‘The Doll’ has been performed in the round, but it is also one of residing Artistic Director Sean Mee’s final productions for La Boite. This very real sense of the old and the new adds to the nostalgia of the production, which only adds to the beauty of the piece.
Caroline Kennison as Olive is fascinating. Olive’s naivety, combined with her ultimate knowledge of the state she’s in, always produces a mixture of feelings. I myself become uncomfortable with her character - not out of disbelief for her reality, more the opposite. Everyone knows an Olive. Each person can recognise some element of themselves in at least one of the characters of the play. That desire for perfection, for happiness, for times long past, is a truly human desire. Kennison’s interpretation of Olive may seem like she is given a dominating persona, however it is just that - a persona, an act. Olive has no control at all, but must act as if she has, in order to play her role. Kennison’s understanding of Olive’s need to be in control produces, to Kennison’s fine credit, a character of many layers, and one which audiences cannot get enough of.
The other characters in ‘The Doll’ do not seem to have quite the same complexity or depth as Olive. Certainly fine performances are given by all, particularly Candice Storey, who’s interpretation of Bubba is almost as equally enamouring and tragic as Olive. Her bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngster is effectively the younger model of Olive, however her character meets her end with hope, whereas for Olive all hope is lost. Scott Witt gives a surprisingly sound performance as the larrikin Barney. Mee’s direction of his actors brings out the best of their performers, and combined with skilled rhythmic timing, creates stunning dramatic moments.
The set for ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ takes on some interesting challenges, largely due to the reputation it must uphold. How does one represent ‘upstairs’, as well as the back and front yards, when there are no walls? Designer Greg Clarke’s set makes the obvious choice: keep it simple. Basic furniture, no fancy dressings, and simple contrasting floor patterns to differentiate between the porch and the living room. Hanging above the lounge set is the silhouette of a staircase and balustrades. The only thing that didn’t quite seem to fit was the way that the kewpie dolls were displayed. What appeared to be fish net was hanging from the staircase, with the 16 kewpie dolls strewn up in the net. While this worked on one level, in that it could represent a ‘trap’, and it was easy for Kennison to pull down, it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the décor. Admittedly, the dolls are meant to be a bit of an eyesore, however the fish net was so alien to the rest of the set that it stood out as a slightly underdeveloped concept, which was a shame, as the displaying of the dolls is so integral to the production.
While much of this review has been an analysis of the characters and story, it must be said that it is difficult to review this production without delving into this fascinating play text. It was simply wonderful to be able to witness live the production we learned so much about during my university years. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a true classic, and well worth seeing for anyone who regards themselves a fan of Australian theatre.
La Boite Theatre Company presents
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
by Ray Lawler
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre | 6 - 8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Previews: 28 & 29 April
Season: 30 April – 24 May | After Show Discussion Friday 9 May
Running Time: 140 mins with interval
Bookings: www.laboite.com.au or 07 3007 8600
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