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All That Jazz. Food Glorious Food. Gotta Fix The Pump. In an increasingly strange game of “guess the odd one out” most will probably come to the conclusion that the latter is the oddity, owing to the fact that the first two are songs from musicals. They would be wrong on both counts (it’s actually Chicago’s offering as I haven’t seen it performed live – I’m a cruel kind of question master) because GFTP is in fact a song from the new Australian musical now hitting UK shores – Once We Lived Here.
Although there’s mystery and intrigue and romantic triangles, there’s also great warmth and plenty of that aforementioned rough Aussie humour too.
The song title may give clues as to what to expect from this original production – its brash, in your face down to earth cheerfulness is so Aussie I almost expected Harold Bishop to pop by asking if he could borrow the Vegemite, mate. It all occurs (give or take some dreamy flashbacks) over a long hot weekend in Victoria, as the three children of the McPherson household are united for the first time in years at their family home, a sheep shearing station in the outback. Their mother Claire (Simone Craddock) is quietly falling deeper into illness, whilst Amy (Melle Stewart), the headstrong eldest who has battled to save the farm through drought, bush fires and recession, must finally face up to the reality of her situation, and some family truths along the way.
So far, so Australian Chekhov, those with a theatrical disposition may think. But “The Kookaburra” this is not – for although there’s mystery and intrigue and romantic triangles, there’s also great warmth and plenty of that aforementioned rough Aussie humour too. Whilst slacker brother Shaun (Iestyn Arwel) jokes about not having any herbs “in liquid form”, wannabe socialite Lecy (Belinda Wollaston) greets old flame Burke (Shaun Rennie) with the to the point “Well thank God I got a Brazilian last week”. Each actor deals well with hopping from light comedy to brooding solos to quirky numbers, Wollaston in particular nailing the self-centred Lecy to hilarious effect.
The songs in themselves range from the toe tapping to the somewhat indistinguishable, but given some pep by a live band. It’s unlikely that people will be holding up the song list in years to follow as the benchmark for all musicals to come – apart from GFTP, obviously, which will become Australia’s new national anthem.
By the time the second act comes the plot begins to feel more predictable, and everything rushes quickly into a melodramatic conclusion. Writer and director Dean Bryant’s script shines most when the characters are given space and time to reveal their quirks and eccentricities, which are nearly forgotten amongst the ramped up drama of the final half hour, saved only in the last few reflective minutes. However, the sheer enthusiasm of all on stage, and the likability of the characters created makes this musical a hugely enjoyable watch, and certainly the best musical about pump mending I’ve seen in at least a year.