There's something special about Aussie rural country towns. They all share some characteristics (e.g. a sense of isolation, hard work, suspicion of outsiders, placid acceptance of their limitations, and a well founded resistance to change). But they also each have their own treasured, unique traditions and private aspirations for their future, and a pride in their particular identity.
In The Appleton Ladies' Potato Race, playwright Melanie Tait has captured this ethos affectionately and very effectively, and with considerable and respectful humour in five glorious characters, all superbly portrayed by this remarkable cast. Each excellently embodies one or more of the charming hallmarks of rural small country town Australia, as well as the prejudices and caution so often felt in the face of threatening change.
Anna Steen as Penny Anderson is convincing as the well-intentioned returning local, full of ideas, experience, opinions and education from elsewhere, standing up to the resistance of her cousins, aunts and friends, and invoking modern technology to address inequalities that are entrenched with the traditions and expectations of the town. Carmel Johnson is wonderful as the matriarch organiser of the race which focusses the town every year: a tough persona with a tender core. She is also hilarious as the “Outsider” who effected a significant change in the race some years earlier. Sarah Brokensha is extraordinarily versatile in a complexity of roles and a fine dance (choreography by Carol Wellman Kelly), while Susie Youssef expertly portrays the dilemmas of a migrant finding approval and acceptance in the community. Genevieve Mooy rounds out the group with further expertise in wearing several of the expected small town prejudices and generosities.
It is the insightful exploration of these kinds of issues, including homophobia, alcohol and drug issues, racism, and more, along with some very funny lines and situations and a wonderful unexpected resolution in the end, that gives this play such strength and appeal. This production is equally supported by Kathryn Sproul's fine adaptable set, smoothly adjusted by cast and costumed stage hands for multiple scene changes, as well as apposite lighting by Nic Mollison and sound (Andrew Howard).
This Race... is a treasure, and the performance is a gem, which should be seen by full houses every night. Then the audience becomes the winners!
State Theatre Company South Australia presents
The Appleton Ladies' Potato Race
by Melanie Tait
Director Elena Carapetis
Venue: Royalty Theatre | Angas Street Adelaide SA
Dates: 4 – 19 June 2021