Comedy cresendoing

There’s a War On, You Know (Mates Theatre Genesis)

Redland Museum

January 26 – February 3

In late 1941, St Cecilia’s School for Young Ladies is all about tradition. The annual production at every year’s sacrosanct Founders Day celebration is always a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, and it is about to rotate around to “The Mikado”. The program has been designed and numbers already rehearsed in anticipation of the coming year’s production …. until on the last December day of term, Japan enters the war. With things reworked into a Chinese-themed “The Mandarin”, the hope is that the production will still please the difficult-to-satisfy bishop’s wife (Lynda Dwyer). Further complication then also arises with the arrival of the VDC (Volunteer Defence Corp), which meets at the school, requiring reallocation of areas for their equipment storage.

It takes a little while for the two storylines of Australian playwright Peter Flanigan’s “There’s a War On, You Know” to be fully formed. Along the way, however, Mates Theatre Genesis’ show is full of recognisable sensibilities of the time and place of a prestigious private girls’ school where the head girl is such because her parents paid for the tennis courts about to be turned into trenches by the VDC. The storylines intersect in Act Two when the girls young ladies of school (Winter McCourt, Angelina Mustafay and Sammy Jo Toussaint Guild) meet the disastrous Lance Corporal Foster (Ronan Mason). In their hurried attempt to explain the plot of “The Mikado” “The Mandarin”, along with the reasoning behind their teachers’ nicknames, they inadvertently set in motion his belief that a coded Tojo-type invasion is imminent.

Simple staging and an intimate performance space at the Redland Museum initially belies the large ensemble of players required to tell the story and from within its cast, there are some clear standouts. Ashley McArthur anchors things with an easy, assured performance as the school’s likeable drama teacher Dymphna, and her scenes of interaction with Father Anthony (Roland Dean) are a particular highlight, especially as they increase in flirtatious tone. Dean, himself, brings some light-hearted delight to Act Two’s crescendoing comedy. And Linda Stevenson makes for an appropriately stern headmistress Miss Thistleton.

Glynis Sequeira’s costumes convey character and reflect an era of rations and spy paranoia … because there is a war on you know. And while early scenes could be pacier or trimmed a little, such as when we see ‘Jerusalem’ performed as part of a school assembly, there is still much to enjoy in the story’s discovery of humour in the dirty business of war. Ian Stevenson’s Captain Woods and Mason’s dim Lance Corporal Forster, are a constant source of humour in their provision of a “Dad’s Army” type comedy of overconfident incompetents, bumbling through mutual misunderstandings, which, with pre-interval hilarity, sets the scene for the chaos to come.

Experience of “There’s a War On, You Know” makes for an entertaining night out at the Redland Museum, especially when it is experienced as part of the dinner and a show deal. The play is one of mainstream, easy-to-watch laughs from big but also little details (like when the home army recruits hilariously attempt to synchronise their watches) and there is a distinct Aussie humour to the comedy of errors that seems to appeal to everyone in its audience.


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