Photo – John Rousselet
How refreshing to see a new Australian musical and also to be able to acknowledge its success on so many levels. This is a really strong production and its presentation was terrific. The subject is Australian identity at a crossroads. The McPherson family have farmed the land for generations and the present day family members are all different and all at odds with each other and their situation.
Mathew Frank and Dean Bryant are both graduates of WAAPA musical theatre course and have written a series of chamber musicals. They capture the “Australian voice” to perfection. Their dialogue crackles along with plenty of back-handed compliments and deadpan humorous ripostes between the characters. Their songs are very much in the school of Sondheim; the musical explanation of an event or emotion and are admirable.
The subject of the story is a poignant one. Years of drought have left the farm, Emoh Ruo, almost untenable. The widowed mother, Claire (Sharon Kiely) is extremely ill and her only companion, daughter Amy (Taryn Ryan) is desperately trying to manage the property while her two siblings have long since escaped to other lives. The ensemble work by the company was excellent. Joshua Firman as son Shaun, Megan Kozak as daughter Lecy and Ryan Dawson as Burke round out the cast.
All are possessed of very good voices and excellent diction. They handled a long play peppered with a great many musical numbers with energy and verve.
My only criticism of the first act is that it took too much time in establishing the friction between the siblings. It could do with a judicious edit. The characters differ so significantly that it is pretty easy to cotton on to their tricky situation.
By contrast the second act involved audience participation in a brilliantly staged flashback to the kids’ show put on at the end-of-shearing barbeque. The siblings launch into a raucous version of the history of the family farm complete with a blue chorus to be bellowed out at intervals by the delighted audience. It was sheer brilliance and an absolute show stopper! Further personal developments between the characters complicate matters but rather than reveal the plot, I will say that a tragic event in the past is revealed and it is explored how the different characters have dealt with this uncomfortable truth or not.
Again, I feel the book needs to be abridged, but the soul of a great Australian musical is at its core.
Lovely, solid characterisations from Kiely, Ryan, Firman, Kozak and Dawson.
Terrific music and accompaniments from a hidden ensemble; MD Joshua Haines (piano), Harry Love (guitar) and Luis Santos (double bass). Clever lighting designed by Katrina Johnson. Simple but effective set and costume design by Rhiannon Walker. Director Andrew Baker created a polished production from the ensemble.
This is a production that gives cause for optimism about the future of the Australian musical. The Blue Room opening night crowd were rapturous and rightly so.
The show has a longish run and I would urge theatre lovers not to miss it.
The Blue Room Theatre & Western Sky Theatre presents
Once We Lived Here
by Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank
Director Andrew Baker
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | Northbridge
Dates: 17 October – 4 November 2017
Tickets: $18 – $28
Bookings: blueroom.org.au | 08 92277005