Mr T is, in a sense, a kind of comedically-inclined documentarian, of human relationships. As I've observed before, that talent comes with the gift for tapping into the, or an, Australian vernacular; plumbing the not-so-very-shallow-as-we-might-like-to think (or have others think) depths of the collective Aussie soul; our sensibilities and sensitivities.
In so doing, Tunks betrays, unabashedly, his own capacious heart and imbues his better plays with it.
He's oft better, too, when he hands the directorial reins to another. As memory serves, Louise Fischer has taken the bit between her teeth, on at least one occasion, which made, if I may labour the equestrian metaphor, for a satisfying ride.
This time, the youthful, but accomplished Fiona Hallenan-Barker is the chosen one. For the most part, she pulls it off.
His vehicle here is three sisters who double (or should that be triple?) as each other's best friend. The camaraderie the actors manage is the centrepiece of the play; on paper, and in practice.
The pixie-like Bree Desborough has jumped the grand canyon between screen and stage remarkably well; the love-child of Evel Knievel and Kenneth Branagh could do no better, one feels. She brings all her cheeky charm to bear, as the chip-shouldered youngest sis. Gina Pollock, as the middle child, took a little while to settle-in (not the only one; let's charitably sheet it home to opening night jitterbugs), but once up to operating temperature, managed to chime with her cohorts.
Simone Oliver, as the eldest, was impressive and seemed to play the lead, in more ways than one. Had she not found her feet, I doubt anyone else on stage would've.
The playwright can't keep out of his own plays. This time he ramped up the camped-up ante, playing an almost implausibly stereotyped gay interior designer (to stay with the cliche, I ask, is there any other kind?). As with my taunt, fortunately, this characters lines are rife with tongue-in-cheekdom; arguably, the only way he could get away with it.
Salvatore Coco has a name that'd look resplendent on the credits to The Sopranos, as well as a shining cv, but he looked utterly uncomfortable as Patrick McKenna, clueless boyf of the middle sister, Belle. A classic case of miscasting.
Errol Henderson can't be held responsible for the filmic travesty that was The Rage In Placid Lake, in which he starred, but he, or his character, or both, in The Rules, were intensely annoying. His turned-gay dad was (pardon any unintentional unnuendo) hamfisted and what might have been a tender kiss, with his lover (Tunks' Zeke Patterson) looked and felt ridiculous. Then again, love is ridiculous; which is why April, the eldest's, Rule 10 was 'never fall in love'.
I can well envisage Adam McGurk in, say, Shakespearean guise, but as adman, Finn Unwin (where does Wayne get these names, which are so apt?), he looked as rigid as an ironing-board.
Luke Rogers, as an implausibly pasty tennis pro, exhibited fine craft, but, in the final analysis, didn't fair much better.
Similarly, Jane E Seymour, who, palpably, has all the tools, seemed to get the carpentry all wrong, in forming her character, as the girls' hot-flushed mum.
Indeed, again, it was the 'sisters' who held both family and play together, albeit after a somewhat shaky start.
Let's come clean. I love Wayne Tunks. There isn't anything he's done I don't want to like. Happily, much, if not most of it, I do. This play included. It's probably not his very best work and sometimes succumbs to trademark excesses and idiosyncrasies, but let's not forget these are, often, also, his strengths.
Just once, I'd like to see what another company would do with it. After all, it's got the heart, of which I spoke. The soul. But there's more here than met my eye. I sometimes wonder if Wayne even realises it.
Design and lighting, sad to say, were uninspired, if adequate.
Tunks Productions presents
THE RULES OF APRIL
by Wayne Tunks
Venue: Newtown Theatre, Cnr King and Bray Streets
Dates/Times: June 11 - July 5, 2008 Tues to Sat 8pm
Tickets: $30 / $25 (Concession) Groups of 8+ $24
Tight Tuesdays $15 Student Wednesday $10
Preview: June 11 all tix $10
Bookings: MCA Ticketing 1300 306 776 or www.mca-tix.com
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