Long before “Grey Nomad” became a tick box on the Census form, David Williamson’s Travelling North was flirting with ideas of retirees travelling in search of warmer climates and a change in lifestyle. Written thirty years ago, Travelling North puts the lives, decisions and health of Frank (Terence Donovan) and his new love Frances (Sandy Gore) under the microscope. Frank and Frances are eager to embrace life in the north, Tweed Heads, whilst Frances’ daughters bicker over whether there mother should stay home and help rear their young families or be saved from a possible life time of geriatric nursing. If family disputes, heart and lung illness and sex for the over fifties are not your cup of tea, you may have cause to stop here. Yet, the issues covered in Travelling North are larger than this and maintain some relevance today. Set in Australia against the distant backdrop of the Vietnam War and with a change of government in the air, Travelling North tries to explore the depth and substance of the characters’ conviction and commitment. When does a promise become an obligation? What makes on obligation a burden?
Terence Donovan as Frank, the cantankerous, dissatisfied, senior citizen bristling at his own aging yet pushing forward with fervour provides the cornerstone performance for this production. Equally engaging are Sandy Gore as Frances, (strangely reminiscent of Maggie Beers) and Ross Thompson as the nosey neighbour and general all round nice Aussie bloke, Freddy Wicks. Lewis Fiander wins the sweepstakes with a warm and funny portrayal of Dr Saul Morgenstein, the local doctor responsible for administering medical and philosophical advice to the aging and ill Frank. These four performances stitch up the theatrical slice of life for which Williamson is renowned, even if this isn’t your slice of life or the familiar - Frank, Frances, Freddy and the Doctor draw you in and divulge all. The work of Composer Andrew Pendlebury supported the performance superbly, highlighting the dark and light in the relationships, emotions and settings of the play.
Less impressive were the performances of Kate Cole and Shelly Lauman as Helen and Sophie, Frances’ Melbourne based daughters who are not sure what growing up and leaving home amounts to. Some of the direction of these characters looked stiff and unconvincing, this was compounded by performances which at times were wooden and shallow, leaving one feeling bemused instead of amused. Whilst there were some questionable costume and set choices, which make this production, seem a little incongruent, Williamson’s story and characters have their day.
The staging of a David Williamson play seems to inevitably bring up the discussion of whose Australia does he write of and for whom does he write? Exactly to what extent are “the contemporary Australian middle class” enthralled with themselves? The fact that this and many other Williamson plays are being revisited year after year, one could say “a lot”.
QPAC’s Travelling North is a safe choice. It will not change the face of theatre goers in Queensland, at times it smacks of snobbery and reinforces the shallow perspectives heard in the country vs city or southerners vs northerners debate known in Australia, but is this Williamson or is this Australia? Did Williamson capture the perpetual themes first time round? If you can see these questions off, Travelling North seems to be an apt production to be revisiting as we herald in a new government, bring troops back home and wave off our oldies in their campervans.
Queensland Theatre Company presents HIT Productions'
by David Williamson
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 19 Aug - 6 Sep 2008
Tickets: (inc. fees) $27.00 to $59.00
Duration: 2 hours (inc 20 min interval)