Fly-In Fly-Out (debase productions)
Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space
June 10 – 11
Orange is the new black in McIlwraith. The Central Queensland town, named after Queensland’s eighth Premier is a sea of high-vis fi-fo uniforms against an orange earth landscape. It’s a quirky little place where they don’t say, let alone do, floral prints and where the annual orchid show is a calendar highlight – the type of place where people are from, not where they live. That is apart from 15 year old local girl Jenny (Tammy Weller). She likes her home town; she finds its characters endearing and takes comfort in the fact that her mum is buried there.
But life is becoming increasingly complex for Jenny; she is busy playing homemaker and trying to care for her younger sister Angie (Stephanie Tandy) while their widowed father is at work in the local mine. Working two jobs (at the hairdressers and on the fryers at the Chook Nook chicken shop) to help her dad (Peter Cosser) cope with rising rent demands is taking its toll on her because, as she eventually asserts, she’s a teenager with her own problems and identity. Specifically, she’s trying to juggle schoolwork, friends and first love.
It is easy to see how “Fly-In Fly-Out” is, at its core, a show for young people, developed by debase productions (with support from Arts Queensland) in consultation with young people from Central Queensland. The teenager characters are all identifiable. As Jenny’s long-time friend David, John Russell is every bit the awkward, yearning teen whose uncertainty is endearing and as self-assured newcomer Seb who swoops into town with his hipster floral shirts to sweep Jenny off her feet, Patrick Dwyer is equally likeable, which only aids in audience engagement by creating an emphatic uncertainly, along with the story’s heroine.
The most notable performance, however, comes from Cosser, a versatile performer who transitions from gossipy small town orchid show organiser to Jenny’s miner father, with ease, his humour never shining more than in a memorable father-daughter driving lesson scene.
Weller too, is charming as the show’s energetic narrator and protagonist, delivering an assured performance that is filled with humour, especially in her movie addict parodies. As a self-proclaimed movie buff, Jenny’s account is filled with film references. At first this is appealing, as she opens with description of how film would be better to give a sense of the place’s land cruiser filled landscape and its main street, take away chicken shop and skatepark landmarks. As the show progresses, however, these portraits can become tiresome and counter to cohesion.
While this is Jenny’s narrative, it is also the tale of a town. And it’s a story that rings all too true for anyone who has spent time in any of Central Queensland’s mining towns (thank you Ed Qld’s country service). Like any small town, “Fly-In Fly-Out” is filled with wonderful, larger than life characters and show’s representation of them makes time spent in McIlwraith, time well spent. It’s a show with momentum to its storytelling and a truth to its refreshingly Australian coming-of-age story and, as such, it is most definitely worth a visit.