Review: The Anniversary by Kucom Theatre, Mackay

The Anniversary
Written by Bill Macllwraith
Directed by Vicky Bobledyk
Kucom Theatre
Beaconsfield State School
Show Dates November 17th and 18th 2017
Tickets available at https://www.trybooking.com/RNST
$30 adults
$25 Concession Students/Pensioners.

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Let me set the stage for you- though I cannot imagine how I could possibly hope to describe the set in question while hoping to do is an ounce of justice…
Tonight I walked into Beaconsfield State Primary School’s hall and found myself not in the same place I visit for my daughter’s assembles, but in someone’s living from days gone by. It wasn’t just a set but an absolute masterpiece that fell somewhere between a doll’s house and Nanna’s cottage and it was divine- easy on the eye, comfortable, cozy and immaculate. It did not creak or bow in the wind- it was as professionally constructed as a film set would be in any movie studio. The lighting was also perfect- complimenting the set perfectly because there wasn’t a single dark corner or stray shadow, and as I sat in my seat and took it all in, my first thought was that it was quite possibly the best set I have ever seen. I was amazed that anyone would go to so much trouble for a three-act play, but eventually I understood that the set was as vital to the performance as any other element was because it guaranteed that not a single word or expression was lost to the audience. I do not know if this was all of one person’s doing or a massive team effort, but it was worth every second because I could have been at The MECC. Then, as though I wasn’t already wowed enough, Jennifer Bee then came out and opened the show by singing a beautiful old tune in a beautiful young voice that got the atmosphere to exactly where it needed to be- something peaceful that was about to be fragment.

The Anniversary is a quiet story. It’s not a musical, it’s not full of over the top characters, it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said before and it’s not full of crazy twists and turns that will leave the audience breathless- but it is a damned good story that is packed full of emotional triggers that are bound to resonate with every audience member and I hung onto every single word from start to finish because every single one of them mattered in some way. The writing is hilarious as times and very moving at others, and the characters are utterly hopeless and completely endearing. I did not know that it had been produced as a movie before I went in, or that Kucom has performed it before, but it’s no surprise that they would choose to do it a second time because honestly, the storyline is as valid now as it would have been originally. It’s very similar in theme to the hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, and I would not be surprised if the creator behind that show was a fan of this play.

The premise is simple: a young man brings his pregnant girlfriend home to meet his mother on her wedding anniversary- one that the family celebrates annually despite the fact that the husband has been gone for some time. You get the feeling off the bat that this is not something that any of them are happy to do, and as the storyline rolls out it becomes apparent that the grieving widow is a bit of a demon who goes out of her way to control, manipulate and torture her grown children and their spouses into doing exactly what she wants them to do. All of them go in there knowing what to expect- all but the new girlfriend Shirley, portrayed by Samantha Attard, who has not been prepared for this visit or ‘test’ as her fiancé Tom calls it at all, at all. She is thrown into the deep end (‘Mum’s’ living room, where the entire show is set) and must do her darndest to not sink with the weight of this woman’s baggage weighing down on them all.

One by one the other members of the family make their entrances and introductions, and although at first every single one of them comes off as being charming in their own way, it’s not long before they’re at each other’s throats and with good reason because ‘Mum’ is an absolute terrorist who pits them against one another for the sole purpose of being the centre of attention. 

Usually I cannot go into detail about the cast of a show because there are too many, but The Anniversary has a very small cast so I am glad to be able to have the opportunity to mention them all, which I think is important because with the absence of scene changes, musical numbers and all of the other stuff I mentioned before, a show like this needs REAL acting to work and the cast delivered it fluidly.

Samantha Attard was great as Shirley, and she portrayed the role very well for someone who struck me as being very young. She had less dialogue than most of the others and most of her performance depended on her looking appropriately confounded by the people around her, and not once did she let that mask of what we now call ‘WTF?!’ fall. She was also a very clear speaker who did her best to imitate a cockney accent and project at the same time, and I don’t believe that that would have been an easy task because the dialogue she had isn’t very compatible (in my opinion) with that kind of accent because the words that Shirley has to speak are very polite and delicate- unlike the rest of the cast who had looser language to play with. That being said, Samantha still made it work and was an absolute vision and I don’t think there will be an audience member that is not on her side from the start. 

William Southwood’s portrayal of the un-loved and over-used son ‘Terry’ was also very reliant on a lot of looking lost or defeated one moment and desperate the next through body language, and he embodied this very articulately, jumping up one second to his mother’s beck and call then wilting the next in a very genuine way that made your heart twist for him. Once again I assume that William Southwood is very young and wouldn’t yet have had the chance to be so tortured by life, but he was authentic all the same and will win many hearts.

Zachary Trounson got the comedic relief role and he made me laugh every single time that he walked out onstage as ‘Uncle Henry’. He was like the big loveable, cross-dressing bear that everybody wants to strangle because he doesn’t realise how easy he has it, being that he’s mummy dearest’s favourite for absolutely NO reason. His projection was fantastic and I think 75% of his lines elicited a laugh from the private audience we had, and I appreciated the energy that he brought to the stage very much because he stole focus exactly as intended.

Tom Dray was quite stunning in his part and like with the first two, managed to come across as being ten years older than he actually is. I really liked what he did with his part and think it was perfectly suited to him, and appreciated how much he had going on that wasn’t necessarily scripted, from nervous tics to the way he held himself he was his character ‘Tom’ through and through. His character was perhaps one of the least likable ones, but he sold it in a way that reminded me of a used-car salesman from the 50’s, channelling a bit of Tom Draper from Mad Men. This is the third time that I’ve seen Tom play a straight (ish) character, and although he nails it every time, I would love to see him go for an off-the-wall role one day because I can see how seriously he takes his work and think he’s only just scratched the surface of what he is capable of.

That leaves me with the final two performers, Chloe Bloomfield and Bronwyn Grannall who played the tortured daughter-in-law and ‘Mum’ respectively, and what can I say but brava? Both women were absolutely stunning, and although I’ve come to expect nothing less of Bronwyn Grannall over the years who has a knack for picking parts that are PERFECT for her, Chloe surprised me by portraying a character who is nothing like her usual sweet self and knocked it out of the park. I could not take my eyes off ‘Karen’ the whole time and will say that she acted right down to her hair follicles. Honestly her character was so much fun and I could see Chloe having a ball with it, but not so much that she lost control of who she was portraying and what that poor woman must have been going through. And although Bronwyn might have had the task of playing the most frustrating human being on the face of the planet, she did so in a way that was nothing short of delightful. These two characters made the show fun and every sharp word they exchanged was perfectly delivered, and I’m sure anyone that is already a fan of The Anniversary will be relieved to see the most conflicted characters in such capable hands.

It’s important for me to point out that the show that I saw last night was a dress-rehearsal, and that it ran more smoothly than any actual performance that I have ever seen. I don’t know if there were lines dropped but if they were they were covered beautifully, and there were no other hitches that I noticed, from costuming to sound and lighting, everything ran as though it were being played to a packed audience and I know with director Vicky Bobeldyk at the helm there was probably no other option. The costumes were beautiful, and the hairstyles, especially as far as the ladies were concerned, were lovely. Not one detail was overlooked and I am actually sort of hoping that I’ll get the time this weekend to see it again, because if the cast could do that with no audience- I’d love to see how they go when they have an audience’s energy to feed off because for this production to be flawless, all they need to do now is relax into their roles. I took with me last night my niece who is visiting from Brisbane- she doesn’t get to go to the theatre much and I was worried that I was going to cement myself as daggy ol’ Aunty Sam by taking her to a three-act play, but she was giggling in delight from start to finish and had a wonderful time.

I am so grateful that this show was given to Vicky Bobeldyk because if this production gets the audience it deserves, it will prove that Kucom Theatre has what it takes to stick around for another seventy years. Five stars- and congratulations to all involved. This is definitely one of those shows where the audience members should read the program and get an idea of where credit is due so they know who to look out for in the future.

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