Left – Amanda Muggleton. Photo – Casey Wong
Like re-reading a much-loved book, when there are no surprises but you revel in the dialogue and re-meeting favourite characters, The Book Club is a familiar tale but one that becomes thoroughly enjoyable through its delivery by Amanda Muggleton.
The story, written by Roger Hall, centres on middle class Deborah and her introduction to a book club to distract her from her newly emptied nest.
From the outset Muggleton sets up a conversation with the audience, telling the tale as you would a friend over coffee, and conjuring up the other book club characters magically, with a voice or laugh or mannerism until the set fills – and empties – so convincingly that it's almost a surprise to realise there is still only one person on stage. While few of her fellow book-club characters progress far beyond the stereotype needed for a comic reference, they are recognisable enough to bring delighted whoops of laughter from the supportive audience, who are quickly lured into the role of sympathetic listener.
Deborah shares her life story with its day-dreams, missed opportunities, joys and disappointments – and plenty of clues as to where the story is going.
The books on the reading list themselves become part of the story, underlining Deborah's concern for her daughters, her future, her boredom and frustration with an increasingly distant husband and directionless life. It's a clever parallel that avid readers will love.
While only the lighting and two props ever change on the set itself, Muggleton builds a scene so well that the simple act of reversing two cushions can convey a whole raft of meaning. The set design, by Shaun Gurton, is impressively simple yet effective.
As Deborah finds herself living out a long-held fantasy, Muggleton throws herself with total abandon – and much hilarity – into the physically explicit storyline, but also offers a masterclass in minimalism, expressing hugely complicated emotions with the most economical and simple of gestures. One can only imagine how much fun Muggleton had working through the story with director Nadia Tass.
The whole team are old hands who bring years of excellence in their field to the production, and it shows.
The Book Club
by Roger Hall
Director Nadia Tass
Venue: The Lawler, Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank
Dates: 23 July – 28 August 2016
Tickets: $65.35 – $70.45