David Williamson’s play TRAVELLING NORTH is now 35 years old. Many people will know this piece from the film adaptation which starred the late Leo McKern as the larrakin, left wing, classical music loving Aussie, Frank. For the current Sydney Theatre Company revival, directed by STC’s Artistic Director Andrew Upton , Bryan Brown is well cast in the role.
Playing opposite Brown is Alison Whyte as Francis. What a fine performance she puts in, especially considering how she came in late in the rehearsal period after Greta Scacchi pulled out due to a back injury. She is a warm, confident performer and came across as being well suited to the role of this good natured, warm hearted woman.
A recently formed couple and newly retired, Frank and Frances decide to make a sea change and leave their Melbourne digs and move up to North Queensland where the weather is warmer and the people are friendlier. What starts out as a great idea becomes infinitely more complicated when Frank’s health takes a serious turn for the worse, his heart starts going on him, and Francis’s grownup children put pressure on her to return. The best laid plans of a happy retirement begin to fall apart….
Williamson puts in a lot of light touches, particularly his trademark witty lines, into what is a bit of a sad tale. Plenty of humour is generated out of the encounters that Frank has with the local medic, Saul, really well played by Russell Kiefel, as Frank tries to get to the bottom of his condition. It becomes tricky to work out who the Doctor is, and who is the patient!
Another great source of humour is the character of their newly acquired nerdy neighbour, Freddy. This was another fine comic performance, delivered by Andrew Tighe. Tighe had the audience in hysterics with every entrance, dressed in short shorts and appearing at the most inappropriate of times.
Harriet Dyer came across strongly in the role of Frances’s needy, bitchy daughter, Helen, whose husband leaves her. Frank displays little sympathy for Helen, ‘you can’t blame him for leaving, after being married for five years to that tongue’!
There’s so much to like about TRAVELLING NORTH. The play still works a treat. Upton ‘s production disappointed in one main way. This was in the staging- in the set design. There was nothing in the design to convey the lure, natural beauty and sensuality of life in the tropics, which had so much to do with Frank and Frances leaving their Melbourne home and comfort zone. The sparse set basically comprised different levels of platforms. So disappointing…
This current revival of TRAVELLING NORTH plays Wharf 1, the Sydney Theatre Company, until the 22nd March, 2014.