Codgers | Steady LadsAustralia has an ageing population. A chestnut as old as the populace itself. By corollary, it also has an ageing complement of actors. Fortunately, some of our best are getting on a bit. Playwrights, too. Don Reid has a foot in both camps and has written for us the charming, empathic and quite delightful Codgers. A longish play, it didn't seem so, which is a good benchmark, to start with. One gets the sense Grumpy Old Men might've proved something of an inspiration and that this play would, indeed, make for a brilliant television series. As you might gather, Codgers is about a bunch of old blokes who, for 13 years, have communed at a local gym, doing their own low-impact exercises. But that's not why they're there. They're a band of brothers, despite their political and other differences and the onset of dementia in one. Riverside Productions & Steady Lads has done a sterling job in putting together this touring production, which is bound to tickle the osteoporotic funnybones of persons not only in Parramatta, but Albury (even Wodonga!), Griffith, Taree, Coffs, Lismore, Gosford and Belrose.

Codgers packs in a fair few well-known gags, including a couple of unlikely ones (the Farkawi tribe, for example; need I elaborate?). That manages to stay just this side of tedious. It's the heart of the play which carries it: the 'boys' have a chat over a cappuccino (the price, quality, quantity and temperature of which is the bane of their lives); one reflects, with a sigh, 'it's funny how you always want just one more sip'; another concurs, 'yeah, one more sip'. This isn't the only metaphor for lives running out, but it's the best and the play's finest moment.

The accomplished Nicholas Dare (think set and costume for Hedwig) has created a clever and effective set, without it being in any way showy. If anything, it risks looking a little pedestrian.

Among the actors, Ronald Falk probably isn't the best-known (he goes back a way, all the way back to Melbourne's Union Theatre, with Barry Humphries & Monica Maughan, in The Front Page), but, in this piece, he's the best, as Keith Fraser, who intrepidly and indefatigably leads his men in the battle against immobility. But Keith has a surprising secret. It would spoil it for you if I spelt out what. Suffice to say, if you like Priscilla, you'll find something entertaining here, too.

From personal experience, Ron Haddrick, MBE, is one of the finest gentleman of the theatre, not only one of our finest actors. His Jimmy McMurtrie has, accordingly, a fine, credible balance of naivety, prejudice, decency, humour and lovability.

Satchel-mouthed Edwin Hodgeman (you won't know the name, but will know the face), as Les Weston, also excels himself as a successful man, past his use-by date, on the slippery Alzheimer's slope. Of course, that's way too dismissive: Les still has much to offer, not least a heart of gold; but you get the gist.

Graham Rouse is another name not especially likely to ring a bell, but his performance, as Patrick Guinness, will. It's tough, old Pat, who introduces Stanley Chang (played by John Lam) to the tight, exclusive, little enclave; a brave manoeuvre, especially in light of Keith's no-bones-about-it, ironic disapproval.

Henri Szeps, as Rod Dean, is the baby of the group, which gives you some idea of the maturity of his cohorts. This is probably the finest work I've seen from him, as the almost heroically fairminded conscience of the play.

In short, Wayne Harrison, assisted by Christopher Hurrell has directed a gift of a cast to great effect in a good, if not great, mainstream play. The general audiences at which it's targeted will lap it up. And, if they've any compassion or sensitivity, so will a good many critics. You're right! We'll just wait and see on the latter.

Riverside Productions and Steady Lads presents
by Don Reid

Venue: Riverside Theatres, Cnr Market and Church Streets, Parramatta
Dates: Wednesday 30 July – Saturday 9 August 
Times: Fri 1 Aug, Sat 2 Aug, Wed 6 Aug, Fri 8 Aug, Sat 9 Aug at 8pm; Thurs 7 Aug at 6:30pm; Sat 2 Aug & Sat 9 Aug at 2pm; Wed 30 July, Thurs 31 July, Tues 5 Aug at 11am.
Tickets: Wed-Thu Eve & Sat Matinee Adults $49, Conc & Groups $44, 30 & Under $36, 16 & Under $31
11am Matinees $36
Fri & Sat Eve Adults $52, Conc & Groups $47, 30 & Under $39, 16 & Under $34
RiversideSaver: Wed-Thu Eve & Sat Matinee Adults $41, Conc & Groups $36, 30 & Under $32, 16 & Under $27
11am Matinees $32
Fri & Sat Eve Adults $44, Conc & Groups $39, 30 & Under $35, 16 & Under $30
Bookings: Riverside Box Office 02 8839 3399 or

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