Michael Gow’s Away is a beautifully simple, quintessentially Australian story. Set in 1967, the country is dealing with the strains of the Vietnam War, where hardly any families are left untouched, and more than a few are torn apart.
It’s a story of difference. Meg and Tom come from two very different families. Their worlds collide after performing in the school play, which opens the production, on the eve of the holidays. Everyone’s going away for Christmas, on a much-needed break from reality.
Gow’s script, while undeniably, authentically Australian, is outdated, and it must be a struggle for contemporary companies to make such a well-loved play take flight. But if anyone can do it, Sport For Jove can! And this production, under the watchful Co Directorial eyes of Samantha Young and Damien Ryan, is very moving.
Most of the cast do incredibly well, given the play’s dated nature. The skill required to play young characters without making them stereotypical caricatures is immense, and both Georgia Scott and James Bell pull it off. As Meg, Scott finds a wonderful, cheeky balance between obedient daughter and rebellious teen. She shows admirable restraint when flirting and playing with Bell as Tom, and a very real confusion as she becomes aware of hisemotions. Bell was clearly the audience favourite, as his Tom toed the line between awkward, smitten boy and self-aware young man. Together, they managed to keep THAT scene rooted in reality, despite its toe-curling awkwardness and obvious sentimentality. Their performances are understated but insightful, and keep the audience smiling throughout.
As Tom’s parents, Danielle King and Michael Cullen give beautifully, painfully detailed performances, from their subtle heartbreak to the way they run their hands through the imaginary sand. Both were undeniably captivating.
Sarah Woods and Berynn Schwerdt do well with a couple of tough characters. Woods borders on pantomimic, with fast, flustered gestures and constantly exasperated speech. But that’s the character of Gwen, and it would probably be hard to deviate even a little from what’s written. Schwerdt as her slightly downtrodden husband is very real. Jim is a loving father to Meg, and Schwerdt’s performance is tender without being defeatist.
Lucilla Smith’s set is wonderfully simple and often breezy and coastal, with lovely details like surfboards and boats. The sweeping, ethereal swathes of white material falling from the ceiling help to fill out the cavernous space, keeping the production from being swept away. The cast fully inhabit thir world, sliding down the hill, paddling in the water, flicking sand. It’s full of heartwarming nostalgia.
The costumes by Jonathan Hindmarsh are delightful, and help ground the production firmly in the era. There’s a lovely selection on show, highlighting the varied styles of the time: knee-high tube socks and short shorts, mustard yellows and olive greens, bright Mod dresses and big hair. Another mention must go to Benjamin Brockman. His lighting for this production is absolutely superb. Not only evocative, but wonderfully slick, the way it sidles from one scene to the next.
Away’s themes are relevant and universal, dealing with loss, survival, prejudice, depression, relationships and growing up. It’s also inherently Australian, even if it is in the past. Young and Ryan have given us an honest portrayal of an honest text, providing the right amount of nostalgia whilst not shying away from the deeper, darker issues.
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now