Years before the internationally acclaimed story of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Olive and Nancy and Roo and Barney were just kids coming out of the roughest years of the Great Depression. The future for themselves and the nation was unknown, only the summer stretched before them. In celebration of Ray Lawler’s 100th year, Lambert House Enterprises brings that summer to the Zoom stage for a staged reading of a blossoming love rectangle.
Emma (Valerie Bader) runs a boarding house in Carlton by the skin of her teeth while also raising her daughter Olive (Rachel Marley) with little help from the salacious boarder Nancy (Madeleine Wighton). Then, two blow-ins (Lachlan Beck and Isaac Broadbent) from the Queensland cutting fields begin sniffing around looking to catch a summer spark. Before long, Roo and Olive have a romance blooming big enough to shift both of their future plans; hers away from the respectable Dicky (Callum Slater) and his into a suburban nightmare. It’s not until the coming autumn forces their hand that they each reveal what they really mean to each other after a hot few months of summer loving.
Dedicated to raising funds for the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, this reading revelled in love of the Australian theatre from Lawler’s centenary to revisiting one of the most beloved Australian plays. The image of country nomads traversing the land looking for labour work is a classic bush story from early colonisation and well into the 20th century. Roo and Barney represent the ideal Aussie bloke with broad accents and a loose relationship with social expectations. They, like the young nation of Australia, are rough around the edges but they work hard and they mean well; what more could you ask of them? It’s a great Australian myth, a fantasy, and, for many, a comfort.
It’s an unsurprising choice of play to reassure audiences and artists alike that Australian theatre is still alive and will return. Les Solomon even leant into the subtle divide between old and new world in the uptight characterisation of Dicky compared to the passionate Roo. Perhaps as a nod to the post-COVID theatre, we can’t always do things the way we’ve done them. And, yet, the play offers warning of swaying too far from propriety, too. The solution is balance, a happy medium, where all needs get considered.
As a play about free, love-struck youths, the performances were loose and casual, at least until the tear-filled final confrontation from Olive. In particular, Wighton as the bold, brash Nancy and Beck’s slightly soppy Roo seemed most at ease in their characters, bringing good-natured realism to the highly unnatural screening platform. And, of course, Bader demanded warm obedience as overworked and suspicious Emma.
It is the warmth of these types of stories which can largely be credited with their endurance throughout the years. The way they construct a balance between the brutal lives of rural labourers against the gentle, smaller delights of life, like going to the fair or making new friends, is comforting as a pleasant reminder that good things are coming.
Kid Stakes was streamed by Lambert House Enterprises in support of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund on September 25th
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