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SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL gets 8.5/10

Summer Of The Seventeenth Doll @ State Theatre Centre
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Starring Amy Mathews, Kelton Pell, Jacob Allan, Mackenzie Dunn, Alison Van Reeken
Thursday, May 9, 2018

8.5/10

As ever, Black Swan State Theatre Company have delivered impeccable theatre with Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, which strikes a chord that rings as true as when this play was penned. Exchange the cane cutting in northern Queensland for the local angle of FIFO and DIDO partners from the Pilbara and you’re there. Exchange the liberal conservatism of Pearl (Alison Van Reeken) for the average western suburbs soccer mum in need of some release from her constricted life, and it’s suddenly, instantly relatable. And Olive (Amy Mathews) is instantly recognisable as the ultimate sexually liberated feminist icon, self-aware before her time in the 1950s.

This iconic Australian play was first penned by Ray Lawler and performed in 1955, but Summer of the Seventeenth Doll‘s themes of the emptiness within nostalgia, the fleeting nature of love, and the depiction of Australian characters and their lives within our culture remain as relevant today as it was when it was first presented to audiences, at a time when it was touted as one of the first truly naturalistic Australian productions. Black Swan takes this very significant piece of theatre and pays homage to it with the reverence it deserves, while still revelling in the joy it contains.

Roo and Barney are mates who work the Queensland sugar canes together, and in the layoff season spend their time in the warm bosom of Olive’s home, celebrating life and living it to the full with abandon and glee, their pockets full and their hedonism embraced. However, this off season is different, as circumstances and emotions shift, and truth is revealed.

Kelton Pell as Roo predictably steals every scene as he enters, full of swagger, grace and an underlying vulnerability which audiences eat up as his presence fills the seemingly never ending space offered by the Health Ledger Theatre. Not to be outdone, Jacob Allen’s rendition as Barney is utterly engaging, hilarious and completely unforgettable. Amy Mathews shines as the lovable, warm Olive, and is undoubtedly the standout star of Dolls.

The impeccable set design from Black Swan has not gone unnoticed lately, and set and costume designer Bruce McKinven deserves all the plaudits for his creation on this run, as with many of his previous works. From the vinyl covered, covetable riveted dining chairs to the floral sofa, to detailing that any 50s aficionado would envy in the cornices and wallpaper, it is flawless from woe to go. The attention to detail in the steps that lead to the stage from the floor, to the steps from stage to set, flowing perfectly up to a staircase which ends in ultimate heartache, resonates in the most palpable ways a set design has ever echoed across a stage.

The costuming is on point, right down to Bubba’s gingham Woolworth’s uniform. This is the Australian 1950s, in all its glorious handmade interpretation of Americana. It makes for the perfect backdrop to the heartache contained within.

The slow, merciless destruction of the beauty that lies within sentimentality and nostalgia, by cynicism and the absurd practicality of adulthood is heart wrenching, as romanticised notions are slowly stripped away like wallpaper being torn to reveal a bare wall beneath. Notions of defying ageing as youth slowly dies will tear at the soul as eyes are forced open, and will leave audiences echoing the sentiment to just “give it back to me.”

Visceral, brilliant and a metaphorical punch in the gut, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is some truly wonderful theatre, well worth your time.

NATALIE GILES

Photos by Philip Gostelow

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll runs until May 20. Info here: https://www.bsstc.com.au/plays/summer-of-the-seventeenth-doll

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