THE FRINGE is my favourite theatre-going time of year and what a way to begin 2016’s season! The first sound cue rewinds loudly as a tape player reverses quickly over the heads to pull us back in time to the simple life. A time when Australian telly provided all the water cooler talk required for the week, when Kylie and Jason were our ambassadors to the world. And when hair was big and plots were small.
BATTLERS AND DREAMERS is billed as a musical “homage to 1980s TV soap operas” and homage is the perfect word. This is a show written and performed with loving hands which pours no scorn on the populist appeal of the Australian episodic dramas but rather, recreates that world gently and so allows us to embrace our embarrassment with nostalgia and revel in our excesses of passion with laughter.
The creators claim they have found the lost tapes of a short lived Australian soap and that initial rewind sound effect takes us to opening credits as the large cast montage their way to the final full-cast shot. You can’t beat a manufactured group smile as they stare directly out at the invisible camera!
And this is how we meet some of the residents of Mainsbridge. Charmayne (that’s char … main of course) Grundy (of course!) is desperately seeking stardom while being desperately in love with Shane … a conflicted loser who is a vacant as his lost memory. Charms’ olds, Geoff and Pam, own the pub and the boozer is going down the gurgler! They need the unreachable amount of a thousand dollars to save it. Geoff even tries to revive his old magic act … no wonder they are against Charmayne going on the stage.
Neighbour Lesley, a CWA feminist and man hater, and her boarder Danni are there to help the feeble plot. There must be a rash of amnesia in the town, as Danni can’t remember her past either : not even how she became confined to a wheelchair. Previous love interest to Pam, Constable Hardy; Shane’s dopey mate Dwayne and smarmy melodrama villain Developer Hardcastle round out the cast.
And what a cast! Really grouse. As Charms, Lauren Pegus, has serious denim credentials and squeezes an alphabet of emotion out the A to B character arc she travels. The plum eyeshadow helps! Not requiring a great voice helps too but Pegus can certainly sell a tune. Phillippe Klause’s Shane is, inexplicably, a rapper and he does this really well. He has hair that does not bear discussion and a way of interacting with the characters with absolutely no intelligence whatsoever. This is a positive comment, by the way. You sorta have ta see it to get it!
Kim Taylor’s Leslie is comically arch and she has a cracker line is close-up holds before fadeouts … hers is the first belly laugh of the show. As Danni, Jacqueline Marriot isn’t quite long-shot or close-up and the reveal suffers a bit from that inconsistency but I just loved her motorcycle mime.
Lynden Jones and Angeline Neville’s, Geoff and Pam also have to be seen to be believed. Watching them together is such a neat little package. It’s theatre level overacting which would be overwhelming on the small screen yet it doesn’t seem overwrought when you are watching it live. It’s a really neat trick! Then Jones can’t help himself and goes and steals the show!
There are quite a few highlights like that. The ‘Magnetic ‘song is pure showstopper. A nice job on this song and dance from Harley Connor. Connor’s Developer Hardcastle is not quite as good but he really rocks a red leather coat! The costumes are actually hilarious and changed often, even if it does cause longer than comfortable scene changes. They are ‘what were we thinking’ reflections of the period with matching earrings and bangles and bags.
But I would see BATTLERS AND DREAMERS again just for the quality of the Solid Gold style dancing from Rebecca Wewege and Joel Thomas. It was so perfectly placed in the text and the combination of TV best in show and 80’s dancewear was just wonderful.
As is this lovely script. It’s cliché ridden, slightly plotted, character thin . I can’t imagine how much work it takes to write this badly … well. Write well badly? You know what I mean. It’s dead set true blue and worth a prawn cocktail. Romy Bartz and Erin Brookhouse devised this new work, inspired by their shared history and affinity with the genre. While Romy’s mum, Belinda Giblin, appeared in classic Aussie shows such as The Sullivans and Sons and Daughters (where Romy spent much of her childhood on set), Erin’s grandfather, producer/writer Don Harley and his actress wife June Thody, worked in the same circles.
If you look deeply enough into BATTLERS AND DREAMERS you might see the art that sews this creative team together but why bother when there is a sequined mutton chop sleeved wedding dress to draw the eye. Some confections just need to be admired and enjoyed. Several times in my case. I’m going again if I can get a ticket.
BATTLERS AND DREAMERS is playing at the Midnight Shift and Giant Dwarf over THE FRINGE:-
The Midnight Shift 85 Oxford St Darlinghurst Thu 1, Fri 2, Sat 3 Sept at 7.30pm
The Giant Dwarf 199 Cleveland St Redfern Sat 10, Sun 11 Sept at 7pm