24
May
11

The Last 5 Years & The Young Ones

So. As well as recovering from the flu and throwing a great big party in the park for my four-turning-five year old, I saw two local community theatre productions on the weekend. One delivered on all of its promises. The other did not.

As far as I can see, for about the last five years, some of our community theatres have struggled with identity, committee structure and processes, programming, membership, marketing and dwindling audience numbers. On the Sunshine Coast, we currently have 9 groups operating and the potential for about 12.

People are involved in community theatre for all sorts of reasons. People attend community theatre productions for all sorts of reasons. When a community theatre group actually goes ahead and, on the strength of its conviction and collective ambition and determination, delivers the great, fun show that it said it would, it is refreshing to say the least! I’m referring to the Australian Premiere of The Young Ones, which is in the middle of a three week run in Coolum.

The Coolum Theatre Players have had new life breathed into them, by newcomer, Julia Loaney. I met Julia before the matinee on Sunday. What an absolute delight this woman is! When her long-term friend, Helen Rimanic (Director), approached her about staging this brand new (British, obviously) jukebox musical, Julia’s immediate thoughts were to do with enticing new, young people to their theatre. And it’s worked. Having worked, in various capacities, with just a few of the performers, it was terrific to see so many new faces on stage. And they look great! Some of those minis are undoubtedly the real thing; vintage PVC specimens! There is definitely some talent there. The trick will be to lure it all back for the next one!

The ensemble sound was good; the parts were solid (Musical Director Vivienne Ellis), though, I will admit, it was extremely disappointing to see The Shadows mime playing their instruments as we listened to backing tracks, rather than enjoy a live band play on stage. Apparently, finding musicians who’ll give up their weekend gigs for the love of community theatre is proving just as difficult as it has always been. I guess I’ll have to keep putting off our plans to stage The Existents!

There were some great dance sequences throughout (Choreography Mandy Masterson) and it was good to see so many boys dancing confidently and competently. Whilst the look of the show is a little underdone, in terms of staging and managing people (particularly in the busy ensemble scenes and the transitions between them), the pace a little lacklustre and only the slightest attempt made to create genuine characters and relationships (luckily, the characters are written pretty thinly), overall, this is a terribly penned show done pretty well! Really! The book is terrible! And you thought Summer Holiday was corny?!

Actually, I’m pretty sure my mum (and we kids) always loved this film and what’s more, I’m pretty sure she still has a major crush on Sir Cliff! Despite its flaws, just like the original film was able to do, this show had us smiling and clapping along. I was pleased to observe that most of the matinee audience enjoyed it too (incidentally, the houses have been great, averaging 150 per performance, which must be a reflection of a number of factors, which Coolum Theatre Players have addressed recently, in order to pick up the ball again). Had the cast given us a whole lot more energy, I’m sure we would have been up and dancing too, to hits such as Livin’ Doll and Do You Wanna Dance? Unfortunately, there has been some illness and just like in any community theatre group, these are ordinary people, who can’t take time off to recover while the understudy steps in. Everybody involved in community theatre either works or studies and the theatrical ventures must fit into their already busy lives.

This is a group with enormous potential in its midst and I’m glad to see the community supporting them by attending in droves. The Young Ones is not a show that will challenge you on any level but you will, quite simply, be entertained by fresh, new, young, enthusiastic performers who have found, in Coolum Theatre Players, a stepping stone that will lead, for a good number of them, to a more serious playing field…if that is what they seek. If not, then may they continue having fun and meeting new friends in colourful musical productions that are genuinely appreciated by local audiences. All sorts. So many reasons. There is certainly a place for fun, entertaining theatre that brings new people to the stage and new audiences through the doors.

There is also a place for the more ambitious performing artists to continuously work on developing their skills and their repertoire if that is what they desire…currently, that place is not Lind Lane Theatre. Without going into the petty politics, which unfortunately seem rife in community theatre (and in any community group, sure), this production of The Last 5 Years was never going to work. Well, let’s qualify that because I – unlike others I know – was prepared to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.

If Jason Robert Brown had written The Last 5 Years as a one-man show, it might have worked superbly, due to the hard work and talent of Rowan Howard. However, as a two-hander, this production hasn’t been given a chance; as opposed to the inspired casting of Howard, a newcomer to Lind Lane Theatre, the role of Cathy is the result of completely misguided casting. And therein lays the penultimate problem of this production. I’m sorry to say I predicted it and I was desperately hoping, even up to the first strains of the opening song, that I would be proved wrong. Sadly – for all involved – during the first 16 bars we had already realised that we were in for a long night. In a much-loved, highly anticipated one-act musical! Seriously, it’s one of my favourite shows ever; how dare they get it so wrong! What we have in this production is the result of a self-indulgent decision made by slightly deluded committee members and in that, a missed opportunity and a real shame for at least one of the directors, who had good intentions from the outset…as well as some notion of what it is to be a director. Further to that, if you insist on staging JRB in a community context, do the man the courtesy of practising those songs on that piano until your fingers BLEED.

I look forward to seeing what Co-Director, Russell Morgan, chooses to get involved with after this experience and also, what Howard decides to tackle next, after giving us a convincing portrayal of Jamie Wellerstein. His renditions of Moving Too Fast, A Miracle Would Happen and Nobody Needs to Know showed us that he is a perceptive and intelligent performer with a much broader scope than one would have imagined. There are many more performers like him, who (unlike him) are all too familiar with the recent history (and histrionics) and will wait for the changing of the guard before setting foot in that lovely little theatre space again. What a great loss for so many theatre enthusiasts on the Sunshine Coast.

I look forward to seeing what they – and other community theatre groups – have programmed for 2012, at the inaugural Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance Season Launch Soiree! That’s right! How excitement! Details to come…


2 Responses to “The Last 5 Years & The Young Ones”


  1. 1 Leonie McGaw
    May 24, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Well said, Xanthe. Not that I’m on the Coast to see it, but it was always going to be an ill-cast (at least partially, I don’t know Rowan) mistake, for precisely the reasons you outlined. I also largely avoided Lind Lane, only seeing shows in which friends appeared. I truly hope the 2011 committee will put high-standard theatre ahead of personal interest – soon.

    That said, I am stage-managing a production of Grease here in Horsham, having decided to make my move south permanent! So if you are down this way (300km west of Melbourne), would love to see you and Sam – and I-could-have-sworn-she-just-turned-four Poppy!!

  2. 2 Jesse Hana Ellison
    June 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks for the review Xanthe. As a cast member of the Australian Premiere of “The Young Ones”, I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable shows I have ever been involved with.
    The director Helen Rimanic was such an absolute delight to work with and every single cast member (even though they were, mostly, young) were so very professional. I only wish it had of been a longer season.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: