BOY OUT OF THE COUNTRY played as part of the inaugural Pioneer Play Festival. The play is a favourite with schools but this was the Sydney premiere. An interesting script which explores the conflicts around loss of rural lifestyle, it is written with an idiomatic style that sees naturalistic and non-naturalistic scenes beside each other and mood and emotion heightened by language.
Hunter and Gordon have come to blows. Hunter has returned to his rural hometown after seven years away to find progress in an unstoppable march. His boyhood home is next to be sold and developed, his mother Margaret, has been relocated and his elder brother has dollars in his eyes. There’s a squabble inevitable as Hunter refuses to let go of the past. Local police officer Walker will handle the physical dustup but Gordon’s wife, Rachel, will be left to moderate between the two. There are big stakes for both men and intractability is their male heritage.
As placed on the black box stage, the setting is cleverly designed to be flexible and is shaped in wood and rusted corrugated iron. There are a lot of scene changes expertly done by the cast but using light to change the place may have sped up the play a little. The set becomes bush and home and bed and police station and being able to take props from the on-stage cupboard is very effective.
Written in a style which the playwright, Felix Nobbs considers “a play in verse” this production doesn’t overplay the lyrical. The poetry is foregrounded at moments, particularly in the repetitions and reprises of the text, but the narrative and character is the imperative.
Hunter, played by Tom Harwood, is twitchy and out of place in his leather coat. Harwood brings out the inconsistencies in his character, a man of the world but a boy still. An immature one at that. His change of name from his birth given, Graeme, stands to exemplify his torn nature and Harwood effectively gives a mystery to the motivations of his character. Is he holding on to the last time he was happy or is it the bonds of brotherhood that he refuses to let go? It’s a very good performance from Harwood and helms the production.
Due to a cast change late in rehearsal, Gordon was read by Jason Glover. The reading did slow the show down somewhat and affect some of the dynamics but Glover had a good command of the role. Working especially well in his performance was the gentrification he was so proud of clashing with his inner unformed, silly and young, boy and older brother. He also brought out the family man well.
Rachel is a peace-maker to all intents and purposes but Amelia Robertson- Cuninghame gives her character more light and shade than that. There’s a levelheadedness to her, especially as she now, given the boys’ behaviour, has two sets of kids on her hands. Robertson- Cuninghame balances the character’s rationality with the inevitable irritations of marriage and her occasional outrage at Hunter but tempers it with compassion.
Walker (Brendan Miles) is a country copper who is happy to have a beer, or several, in uniform. Manipulative in his plodding way and with the history of the area and the personalities at his command, his is an obvious agenda. His equal opportunity bigotry is well put over by Miles who also has a terrific command of the comic elements of his character, especially the way people just disappear as he is talking to them!
Margaret is played with complexity by Jeannie Gee. A figurehead creation for the discussion around our treatment of the elderly, Gee brings considerable pathos to the lost moments and her disorientation is moving and sensitive. One of the most attractive aspects of the text is the direct to audience sharing. The two brothers speak directly to us of a past rich in the joys of brotherhood and rural living and these moments are beautifully presented by Director Erica Lovell. The expression and delight in the language is tempered with story. This is nicely articulated in Scene 6 where Rachel and Margaret speak to the audience. Their stories intersecting and travelling away, making it a very moving scene.