First up – La Mama itself. I’d heard so much about this theatre and its place in Australian theatre – not to mention the gargantuan effort to save it financially quite recently – that I realized upon arrival that I’d made certain assumptions in my mind. I assumed it was at least the size of, say, The Stables in Nimrod Street Kings Cross, another venue that made an indelible mark on the shape of Australian theatre. I just didn’t have a clue just how, erm, intimate the place was. But intimate is good, and I found it a quirky, welcoming place staffed by uber friendly people.
Such an intimate space is ideal for the quite wonderful little two-hander The Weather and Your Health which clocks in at around 55 minutes. The title of the play initially made me tread carefully: it’s not exactly the most vibrant of play titles. But something in the press notes appealed and I can’t enthuse colorfully enough about the warmth, charm, humour and humanity of the thing.
The characters are simply She (played by the play’s creator Bethany Simons), and He (Andrew Dodds). She tells us of her life growing up in the rural town of Gilgandra, known to the locals as Gil. Simons narrates and re-enacts stories throughout her life, seeing everything in a positive light while Dodds as He says and does little throughout, representing the laconic Australian rural male. A young girl living through the Second World War in a country town, life is obviously not going to be easy, but She is a glass-half-full kind of person who can see good things in the most mundane things.
Simons does a great job of acting out the various ages of her life, as well as the other characters who made guest appearances throughout it, and you realize as you listen to her sometimes very funny stories that there is, in fact, an underlying sadness. Or perhaps sadness is the wrong word. Perhaps you just realize that although She makes the most of things, things are not, in reality, all that peachy – at least not by comparison to our largely affluent, big city lives.
And perhaps that’s the point of the thing. Perhaps, like the main character (based on Simons’ grandmother) we would be happier if we didn’t complain so much and made the most of what we have. Not that this message is driven home and indeed it may not even be the point, but I did get the growing feeling that underneath the humour there was something bigger to think about.
This was a bare-bones production that really captured the eras leading up to this one. Whether telling us of a young girl’s encounters with God, a teenager’s coming of age, a young woman’s naïve pride in her cooking or ability to apply facial cream, Simons as a performer really sparkled. Young love morphs into an enduring marriage with children, and Simons still manages to convey a positive outlook that must have been worn down at times, and with so few props as a few pieces of material and a couple of chairs.
As for Dodds as the He character... this was a role that as humorous as the rest of the play, just in a subtler, more drawn out way. Better than a running joke, his constantly silent (for the most part) presence is important to the enduring effect of the piece. It’s easy to think the part is not necessary, that this performance could be a stand-alone for the main character, but He serves to remind us that in spite of her bright eyes, times can be tough, relationships can be tested and that real life isn’t always perfect. His final line at the play’s conclusion - and her reaction to it - is simple and unexpectedly moving.
This is a very Australian performance that will have wide appeal. My plus 1 on the night is star-spangled direct from down-town Chicago, and like the rest of us in the (very) full house she rarely stopped laughing, proof that in spite of its apparent parochialism and abundance of colloquialisms, this small play with a big heart and loads of talent does have universal appeal.
I hope to see The Weather and Your Health again in a Sydney theatre, but if not I am content with having seen it at La Mama. And I think Bethany’s Nan would approve of that.
La Mama presents
THE WEATHER AND YOUR HEALTH
by Bethany Simons
Directed by David Wicks
Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: 1 – 12 July, 2009
Times: Weds and Suns at 6.30pm, Thurs to Sats at 8.00pm
Tickets: $25 / $12
Duration: 55 mins approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142 or book online at www.lamama.com.au