Sarsaparilla style

The Season at Sarsaparilla

Gardens Theatre

August 8 – 13

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There is a sense of “Cloudstreet” to “The Season at Sarsaparilla”, not just in its descriptor as ‘the great Australian dream realised in sweltering suburbia’ but in the way that, under Jason Klarwein’s direction, the realisation of Patrick White’s 1962 play is staged. The Australian classic, which concerns three households, the Pogsons, the Boyles, and the Knotts, in the fictional suburb of Sarsaparilla, is eloquent and textured in its exploration of the limitations of family and upbringing. The examination of the ordinary lives of the three families within Mildred Street is packed full of rich theatrical fodder; even though its themes befit the now sentimental satire on Australian suburban life, there is also an authenticity to its illustration of the effect of monotonous loneliness and the power of ambition to find contentment and purpose in life.

As our restless-soul, sensitive narrator of sorts, Roy Child (Grady Ferricks-Rosevear) reflects late in Act Two, “you can’t shed your own skin, no matter how it itches.” Indeed, universal themes transcend the play’s era of lino, lamb’s fry, hire purchase and new Mixmaster pride; these are everyday Australians who have worked hard for the post-war suburban dream, even if it comes with entrapment by the mores of the time. But ‘what are you going to do?’ especially as a woman, whose daily activity is restricted to passive aggressive commentary of what is going on in the neighbourhood.

A clear sense of containment is suggested in the sentiment of character dialogue and Roy’s commentary, which is emphasised by Anthony Spinaze’s dynamic set design of three bungalow box houses. The stylised production engenders a sense of voyeurism, although having the majority of the action set back on the stage distances the audience from the intimacy of some of its human stories. Digital projections of diorama recreations of the street’s dwellings add interest and work well to show the passage of time as day drags into night, with Glenn Hughes’ dynamic lighting dramatically signalling thematic moods.

The overlapping lives of the street’s residents present as a series of related sub-plots, however, there is one that drives the action more than others, thanks to some superb performances. Amongst occasional overdone ocker accents and exaggerated enunciation, Nicole Hoskins is a standout as the childless Nola who, despite being married to the good-natured Ernie (a likeable Jack Bannister) is tempted towards an adulterous affair with his larrikin mate Rowley (an appropriately beguiling and swaggersome Will Carseldine), with whom her husband fought in World War Two.

As a cultural artefact, “The Season at Sarsaparilla”, serves as tribute to a time deceptively regarded as simple, but as the QUT BFA (Acting) final-year students, supported by QUT BFA (Technical Production) students, show us, it is also a metaphor for so much more. Like the prolonged vowel-accented drawl of a broad ocker accent of old, the show is a long one and sometimes it feels that way, taking a while to establish households and relationships before getting into the action of the story’s conflict ahead of interval. Still, within this expanse there are many opportunities realised by cast members and creatives alike.

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