The Australia Day Committee in action. Pic Jeff Busby

The main plot to Jonathon Biggins’s debut mainstream play AUSTRALIA DAY revolves around whether the members of the Australia Day committee in the quaint, country town of Coriole can get their act together enough to put on a decent Australia Day for their community.

It is touch and go when the Committee comprises such diverse, volatile and flawed members. There’s the Chairman Brian (Geoff Morrell), the ambitious Liberal Lord Mayor who has his eye on the local Federal seat…bigoted, bullish Wally (Peter Kowitz) who has a notorious short wick…conservative, typical world Country Woman’s Association member Marie (Valerie Bader), quick witted ABV (Australian Born Vietnamese) schoolteacher Chester (Kaeng Chan), and local Greens Councillor and self-proclaimed idealist, Helen (Alison Whyte).

The experience that Jonathon Biggins has clocked up for many years working with his colleagues on the Wharf revue has held him in good stead. His play sees him in good form. It is one of the evening’s nefarious pleasures, watching the diverse range of targets he aims at.

Public education (‘We don’t have Air Conditioning, This is a Public School, the ABC (‘You are such a pen pusher, you should have worked at Radio National), Jeanette Howard (She’ not a woman, she’s a robot), Penny Wong (You aren’t going all Penny Wong on me’), Vietnam (It’s like New Zealand only hotter)…the steady stream of one-liners keep flowing…

Through the play there’s a steady stream of one-liners. These are some of my favourites- ‘You are such a pen pusher, you should have worked at Radio National’… ‘Every parent lives through their kids- that’s why we have them’….’that’s how the dinosaurs died out- they were nagged to death’. Wally- ‘What’s more Autralian than sausage on a barbecue? You think in China on Chairman Bloody Mao Day they serve up plavlova’.

Richard Cottrell, one of Australia’s premiere comedy theatre directors, has put together an impressive, entertaining production. Cottrell wins strong performances from a well selected cast.

Over many years Geoff Morrell has established himself as one of our finest actors which he proves again in his role as the too slick, ambitious Chairman Brian.

As do-gooder Greenie Helen, Alison Whyte gives a relaxed, impressive performance. Helen is the one character in the play that doesn’t feel quite credible. Just when one feels like one has a good handle on her character as an idealistic, straight-shooting Greenie, who makes such incisive remarks as, ‘’I don’t like it when the dog with the loudest bark rules the pack’, it’s hard to believe her later actions.

Peter Kowitz is great at playing loud, obnoxious characters and is well cast as belligerent, bigoted builder Wally. One of his opening lines in the play is, ‘fuck me sideways, it’s cold’ and the level doesn’t get any better from then on in.

Valerie Bader is also well cast as the old worldly Aussie Country Women’s Association member, Marie. It is very understandable that when the Committee is discussing the possibilities of creating an Australia Day website, Marie’s retort is, ‘back in my days we used to have pen pals’.

Kaeng Chan gives a spot-on performance as Chester, the Lakemba born ABV- Australian Born Vietnamese- on the committee. Through the play Chester loves to tease his Committee colleagues and their not so politically correct attitudes.

In Act 1, Richard Roberts’s set is set in the staff room of Coriole Public School, in Act 2 the play has well and truly moved on and we watch the characters set up in the Marque as they set up for Australia Day.

‘Every parent lives through their kid, that’s why they have them’! That’s a line the great Oscar Wilde would have been proud writing!

With AUSTRALIA DAY, we have a fine new Australian satirical comedy. A joint Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company production, together with Allens, AUSTRALIA DAY opened at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, on Wednesday 12th September and runs until Saturday 27th October 2012.

(c) David Kary

18th September, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Theatre Reviews- AUSTRALIA DAY, Jonathon Biggins, Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House, Richard Cottrell, Richard Roberts, Valerie Bader, Kaeng Chan, David James, Peter Kowitz, Geoff Morrell, Alison Whyte, Jeff Busby, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary