Australia Day. By Jonathan Biggins. Directed by Cate Clelland. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3, Ellery Crescent, Acton. November 16-December 2. canberrarep.org.au.
Director Cate Clelland says Australia Day is "a play about politics with a small p - local politics."
It's set in the fictional NSW town of Coriole as the Australia Day organising committee meet in a Scout Hall in the lead-up to the annual celebrations. But this year is going to be different. The town mayor, Brian (played by Pat Gallagher) who is also head of the committee and his loyal deputy (on both council and committee) Robert (Thomas McCoy), find themselves and their traditional ideas up against two relative newcomers.
Chester (Jonathan Lee) is an Australian-born Vietnamese primary-school teacher, and Helen (Sarah Hull) is another town councillor who is a member of the Greens - and they both have their own notions about what should happen on the upcoming January 26.
Also in the mix are two other returning committee members, Wally (Neil McLeod), an older man not interested in any ideas of political correctness, and Maree (Micki Beckett), president of the local Country Women's Association.
Clelland says one of the things she felt when she read Wharf Revue stalwart Jonathan Biggins' comedy was, "We recognise it and recognise the people.
"I know they're types but not they're not caricatures and there's a reality about them."
They're also, she says, deeply flawed people, and the audience learns more about them as the play progresses with ulterior motives and
Gallagher says Biggins used to be anti-Australia Day but had something of a change of attitude when he became a regional Australia Day ambassador.
"Australia Day is different in the small country areas - he saw what the day meant to them. He saw it was different to the grandstanding political agendas."
And Biggins' play reflects these personal concerns.
"When you come right down to it, it's not a massively political play ... it ends up being about the clash of different types of people rather than political ideologies."
Brian has been running the local hardware store for 30 years: "He's a dyed-in-the-wool local."
He also has higher political aspirations: he's aiming for Liberal Party preselection in the coming year. Characters like him and Maree are conservative, Gallagher says, but not reactionary. Everyone in the play has his or her reasons and humanity, he says; you get a sense where even the most seemingly objectionable characters are coming from and nobody is perfect.
"Pretty much everybody gets a serve ... nobody comes off as an absolute hero."
Beckett thinks her character, Maree, undergoes the greatest change of any of the people in the play.
"In a way she's an innocent," she says - she's a stalwart of the local community, she's been in the CWA and on the Australia Day committee for years and takes a friendly interest in people ("You could say she's a stickybeak but I don't think there's any malice attached").
She's a Liberal by inclination and has reservations about Helen and her Green ideas and when crisis point is reached her character is put to the test.
"I'm enjoying her," Beckett says.
One of Beckett's friends is a branch president of the CWA but is "much more glamorous" than Maree, she says,
"My Maree is very different from her - I've based her on what i hear from my friend and what I see in Maree."